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Bristol Hospice not on our side

by Joanne Richardson, MFS, EMT-P

San Juan Island

When Elizabeth Kubler Ross created the Hospice Movement in the 1960s it was not for profit. This was her intention. Why should families have to pay for hospice service simply because a private hospice corporation says they will run things “better?” Hospices typically have volunteers. Many of its staff are paid through donations. This is not always easy to achieve but Hospice of the Northwest on San Juan Island keeps its costs down by not having an office space.

I am extremely saddened to hear that Bristol Hospice is considering purchasing Hospice of the Northwest. Not only is this a poor decision but I know first-hand what occurs when corporations purchase locally run hospices. While this was several years ago, I am still disgusted by what occurred.

I have been a certified paramedic for 35 years. When I became a death investigator in Larimer County, I was required to attend a police academy. I was elected coroner in Summit County Colorado and watched our local hospice get taken over by Centura Health who ran our local hospital. I kept track of our local hospice patients’ impending deaths because we did not have a funeral home and I made most of the removals. I worked closely with them for a smooth transition and families knew what to expect and what information was needed in advance.

Once Centura took hold, I watched in horror as they struggled to find trained staff. Hospices must have a chaplain and a licensed therapist on staff. The best they could do was hire the fire department chaplain who I had difficulty working with because he was a menace on death scenes, showing up before police or me, disturbing scenes in his desperation to “help.”

Then they could find no therapist to take that position and were so desperate they hired a sex therapist. Yes, you heard right. It was disgusting. They also hired nurses who had no death training and gave them no training. Worst of all, they did not educate their families as to what to expect or work with cultural differences. They could never get Do Not Resuscitate orders signed so EMS was needlessly called on almost every death.

During this takeover time, my friend Sandy was dying she and her husband asked me to come to their house to discuss what the death process was like. I asked them whether anyone had discussed this with them and they told me that the chaplain could only talk about his dead son and that the sex therapist was ill-equipped to speak with them. I remember spending a full day with Sandy and her husband saddened by the lack of quality caregiving.

As our population ages, we must ask ourselves if we can afford hospice care? Residents of San Juan County do not deserve a corporate for-profit hospice provider. It is my experience that for-profit hospices like Bristol care about the almighty dollar and don’t have the training, experience or passion to care for patients that volunteer agencies do. Bristol is trying to get its foot in the door in Washington state. Free hospice care just isn’t for the patient. It’s for loved ones too.