LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 16, 2018) – Like many young adults, Sarah Guthrie had very little experience dealing with the death of a loved one. When her father was admitted to the hospital for a sudden illness in summer 2016, she expected an ideal outcome: he would receive treatment, get better and go home.
But by the time her father arrived at UK HealthCare, his kidneys and liver were already failing. As he grew sicker, she began to understand that he would not be with her much longer.
“I was totally unprepared for how to handle it,” she said. “I have loving and supportive friends and family, but as an only child, I’ve never felt more alone and helpless.”
During her father’s stay at UK, Guthrie was introduced to Bluegrass Care Navigators, formerly known as Hospice of the Bluegrass. Working with Guthrie, the hospice team developed a plan to keep her father comfortable during his final days.
“If it was not for hospice, I don’t know how I would have dealt with this,” Guthrie said. “The compassion they showed for my father and me was nothing short of miraculous.”
Dealing with end-of-life care is a difficult prospect both for the patient and the loved ones who are trying to support them through the process, while also needing support for themselves. In an effort to improve access to compassionate care for terminally ill patients, Bluegrass Care Navigators recently launched a new inpatient hospice unit at UK HealthCare. The new space provides specialized end-of-life care for patients dealing with a variety of advanced diseases, including cardiac, pulmonary, renal, liver and neurological diseases and cancer.
“Our inpatient teams have cared for patients throughout UK Medical Center for some years, yet this new unit will provide our patients and families the chance to enjoy calm, relaxed surroundings along with our expert hospice care,” said Liz Fowler, president & chief executive officer of Bluegrass Care Navigators.
Located on the third floor of UK’s Ben F. Roach Building, the hospice care center has 10 private rooms and a common room and kitchen to provide many of the comforts of home for families and patients. Additionally, the center has expanded visitation hours to allow the family more time with their loved one.
The new facility is one of only a handful of hospice inpatient care centers in the country located in an academic medical center. This unique collaboration offers opportunities to provide expert care as well as training and education on hospice and palliative medicine.
While UK HealthCare has operated virtual hospice beds for years, the new inpatient unit is evidence of the enterprise’s belief in the benefits of hospice care and the importance of having a dedicated staff of hospice experts available for patients who need them.
“Our focus is always doing the right thing for our patients,” said Colleen Swartz, chief nurse executive and chief administrative officer for UK HealthCare. “When the patient and the family come to a decision that the ‘right thing’ for them is hospice care, it is a privilege for us to be able to offer this care option in a location that makes for an easy, seamless transition from one care environment to another.”
Inpatient hospice care involves expert symptom management for hospice patients in a homelike hospital setting, providing round-the-clock medical and nursing care to manage distressing symptoms. Specially trained staff and volunteers carry out a patient-focused plan of care developed by the hospice team in collaboration with the patient, family, and attending physician.
Though some patients may remain at the hospice care center to the end, the goal is to manage symptoms so that the patient may return home as soon as possible, where Bluegrass Care Navigators’ home hospice team will continue to provide care.
“For 40 years, Bluegrass Care Navigators has provided expert care for the final months of life, including medical, nursing, emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families,” said Bo Cofield, chief clinical operations officer at UK HealthCare. “We are fortunate to have them here caring for our patients.”
For Guthrie, the hospice experts at Bluegrass Care Navigators not only helped manage her father’s physical symptoms, but brought him moments of joy in his final days: first, they arranged for his beloved dog, Maverick, to come stay with him in his hospital room at UK.
And when Guthrie spoke to the hospice counselors about the realization that her father would not be there to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, the team arranged a private room at the hospital for the two to have their own “first dance” with the song of their choice.
“In the four short weeks I had with my father in the hospital, they helped me fill our remaining time together with love, compassion, understanding, and most of all, dignity,” said Guthrie, who now volunteers for the organization. “Without Bluegrass Care Navigators and UK, I would not have these memories, and I know this new hospice unit will help other families make those last memories possible.”