One of the most difficult periods of life that all of us will experience is when we are faced with the end of life, whether it is our own or that of a beloved family member.

Over the past couple of weeks, The Sun-Times has published a series of segments highlighting some of the important services offered to the community by the Cleburne County Department of Health.  This week, we are wrapping up that series with the Hospice program.

One of the most difficult periods of life that all of us will experience is when we are faced with the end of life, whether it is our own or that of a beloved family member.  Many times we are overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness and we find ourselves unable to adequately fulfill needs that were once so simple and routine.  The Hospice program provided by the Cleburne County Department of Health is there to help during this difficult time and let people know they aren’t alone in the process. 

 “Hospice is an end of life program that is geared towards support for the patient as well as the family,” said Beth Strachner, a member of the Hospice program. According to information from the Arkansas Department of Health, “Hospice is a program of care, comfort, and support for terminally ill patients and their families.  It enables patients to remain at home where most people prefer to be with their loved ones.  It allows death with dignity.”

The Hospice program accepts Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and will also accept those without insurance.  Pain control and symptom management are a big part of the program, but aids also assist with personal care, light housework, and other quality of life needs. Trained volunteers are also available to sit with the patient in their home.  In some instances, the program is able to supply material and equipment needs that Medicare doesn’t pay for and a social worker is on staff to provide emotional support and assist in extra financing, if needed.

To qualify, patients must have a six-month life expectancy if the condition progresses normally.  “A lot of people feel like hospice is strictly cancer, but it’s not,” said Strachner and, like other care programs provided by the Department of Health, is not only available to the elderly.  Although they are set up as a home program, they assist people in formal facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, etc., and anyone can refer a patient.  Once a patient is referred, the staff will follow up to determine if that person meets the criteria for hospice care.

“We love this program,” said Strachner, referring to herself, Ginger Ervin, and Caroline Akins.  “We three have worked together for almost 20 years.”

The program not only focuses on the patient, but also provides support for the caregiver, who is most often a family member.  While checking on the patient, they also check on the caregiver to ensure they are eating, resting, etc.  After the patient passes, they follow the family member for a year as part of their bereavement program.  One of the most popular and endearing services they offer the family member is the creation of a memory bear or pillow.  When the patient passes away, they ask the family member for articles of clothing and other items that belonged to the loved one.  With these items, they create the memory bear or pillow and present it to the family member.  “It gives them something tangible to hold on to,” said director Vicki Presley.

Anyone that is facing an end of life situation for themselves or a family member should know that there are services out there that can help them through these difficult times.  The Hospice program here in Cleburne County provides its patients with an atmosphere of caring and love that can be difficult to find at this time in our lives.

If you are interested in this service, or know of someone that may benefit from it, contact the Cleburne County Department of Health at 501-362-7581.