Leadership and Hope: Hospice of the North Country

Hospice offers a way to care for people who are terminally ill by focusing on pain relief and symptom management as well as emotional and spiritual issues. The primary goal of the care is keeping patients as comfortable as possible throughout the end stages of life. Comfort measures include pain management and methods for minimizing disease-related symptoms. Hospice care, which can be provided in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility, is a service that no one wants but everyone is grateful for if they need it.

Once a physician determines that a patient’s life expectancy is six months or less a referral for hospice care may be made. In our area hospice offices can be found in both Plattsburgh and Malone.

Hospice of the North Country Executive Director Natalie Whitehurst, began her professional career in research, first at Wyeth and then Pfizer in Rouses Point. After the pharmaceutical company announced it was leaving the area she turned her job search to a career in community service. In 2014 she became the Director of Operations at Hospice. Two years later she assumed her current role.

In her interview with Strictly Business Whitehurst was quick to celebrate Hospice’s providers and sup- port staff. “On average Hospice of the North Country brings the highest level of compassion and skill to more than 300 patients annually,” she explained. “In addition to providing physical, emotional and spiritual support to patients, our team provides bereavement care to the families and loved ones after death. They really are amazing.”

Measuring Success
When Hospice assesses how well it meets goals and measures success, it has a different yardstick than most businesses. Each year it conducts a local, regional and national census which measures the demographics of the patients it serves. Along with variables such as disease, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., the census records when the patient is referred to hospice care. Nationally over half of hospice patients are enrolled for 30 or fewer days. Almost 30% are enrolled for less than a week. The North Country’s stats are in keeping with national averages. Whitehurst emphasized the challenges late referrals pose. “Our providers do their best for their patients but it can be difficult when they only get to know them for a short time. We are looking to strengthen our community outreach in the hope that will help to bring people to us sooner.”

One of the challenges Whitehurst faces is funding. Medical care services are billed to insurance companies but the bereavement component of care is not covered by any insurance despite being part of New York State’s hospice mandate. That’s where the North Country community support comes in. “Our bereavement services are a vital component to our scope of care. Our staff follows up with patients’ families and loved ones for 13 months after the death,” Whitehurst explained. Funding from the United Way of the Adirondack Region, along with charitable contributions funds the service that is so important to those left behind.

Hope Redefined
It is important to note that hospice is not about giving up hope Whitehurst explained. “The goal of hospice is to redefine hope for patients and their families. By having conversations about end of life care individuals can live life to the fullest until the end of their days. Hospice care focuses on improving the patients’ quality of life to allow them to make the most of the time they have left.

Dame Cicely Saunders is credited with founding hospices as we know them. Her guiding principle governs hospices across the globe and Hospice of the North Country is no exception. “You matter to the last moments of your life and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peaceful, but to live until you die,” Whitehurst concluded.