Dec 22

Hospice and Respite Care

By DILLON KATO

Caring for a parent or loved one who is getting older or has become sick is never easy, and it’s often difficult to try to make the right decisions for them and yourself.

Many people make the choice that instead of moving into a nursing home, they wish to stay in their own homes. Hospice care services are one of the ways a patient and their caregiver can accomplish this, while still providing necessary medical attention.

Rocky Mountain Hospice has locations in Billings, Helena, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula. It has nurses, CNAs, therapists, chaplains and social workers that can all be brought into the home for a patient in a qualifying end of life situation who has that need.

Shelly Ness, admissions nurse with Rocky Mountain Hospice’s Billings office, said when cuts to Medicare are suggested hospice care is often one of the first programs put at risk. Ness said community and political leaders could use more education on how hospice care can actually save money.

153906747“You have someone whose only option is to call the ambulance and go to emergency room every time something isn’t quite right, versus a nurse who goes in twice a week to be able to help manage symptoms,” she said.

Ness said she’s seen the benefits of staying at home, even in end-of-life situations, from both perspectives. Her father died at the start of the year. He was 66 years old and didn’t want to go to a nursing home, but could no longer do daily tasks like getting from the bed to the bathroom by himself. Ness said he required a caregiver almost all the time.

Similarly, when a person is taking care of a spouse, having to go into a nursing or assisted living facility daily can interrupt their own lives dramatically. Home hospice care allows them to maintain a more normal routine.

“That’s sort of why our company doesn’t have a house, we feel like for caregivers family and patients, during an immensely stressful time, the best place to be is at home,” Ness said. “What we can offer is having a nurse that puts her eyes on a patient and can contact the doctor right away if there is an issue.”

For qualifying patients, in-home hospice care is entirely covered by Medicare, Ness said. That includes not only the care, but the related equipment like oxygen, hospital beds, walkers and shower benches. Private insurance can vary, but she said most of them come at least some level of hospice care.


Another option for a patient being cared for by a family member is to explore respite care. Respite care is a term that covers a somewhat broad category of care. Generally, it refers to short-term care that gives the primary caregiver, often a family or loved one, a break from their duties.

“I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated jobs, being a caregiver. A lot of people think it’s just assumed, that you just take care of them because they are family, but there are significant stress and health concerns,” said Tiffany Thurston, admissions and marketing director of Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Park Place in Great Falls.

When a family member is taking care of an older parent who has become ill, or a spouse caring for a husband or wife, they often let their own health decline, she said. They tend not to sleep as well, not to take as much time to relax, and the risks of heart attacks, stroke, and other illnesses increase.

Many of the primary caregivers are part of a sandwich generation. They are adults still in the workforce who have an elderly parent they are caring for or who is living with them, but also have their own home life or children.

Park Place receives patients for a variety of reasons, Thurston said. Sometimes, a caregiver just needs a break for their own health, or has another commitment that might make them unable to take care of their loved one for a short period. Typically, stays at Park Place last a few days to a week.

“It can be if a caregiver needs a break, if the patient just isn’t doing well, or if they have other needs on their time, like work or a family vacation,” Thurston said.

The units are run by nurses and CNAs, and Park Place also has occupational and speech therapists on hand to help patients with their needs. Thurston said they charge $200 per day for respite care patients, and that they require a doctor’s orders before they can admit anyone.

Park Place also offers longer term inpatient hospice care. While Medicare covers in-home hospice care, it doesn’t cover the room and board costs of a skilled nursing facility like Park Place, so that more expensive aspect is paid by the patient or caregiver. Hospice patients are always given rooms to themselves, and family are not required to maintain any strict visitation hours.

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