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Hospice service lends support, expertise: Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice specializes in end-of-life care

Daily News Staff Writer

Death and the process of dying can be a complex, difficult journey for an individual — and for family members and others who provide care.

Help is available.

The Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice can “come alongside” to assist the person and family in many ways.

“This program gives out a real, wide, yellow-brick road on how to do this and how to do it well,” said Jamie Easterly Ketah, the registered nurse who serves as the volunteer hospice coordinator at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and Easterly Ketah spoke with the Daily News on Nov. 12 at the hospice office in the former Wilson Clinic building adjacent to the medical center.

She explained the end-of-life services offered by the Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice, strongly encouraging community members to make use of its support and expertise.

“If you’re building a house, you find the right people. If you’re doing a business, you find the right people,” said Easterly Ketah. “We are the people who understand this process.”

Understanding the process and making decisions in advance are keys to taking control of what otherwise can be an overwhelming circumstance. Having decisions made at an early point can provide a sense of peace as the end of life nears.

“Because when death is on your doorstep and you're with someone who is actively dying, it's mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally exhausting,” Easterly Ketah said

It’s also something that every one will face.

“No one gets out of it — we are all destined to leave these bodies and death will come,” she said. “Why not plan it out so that you can have peace to live? … These are my wishes. This is what I want to have, and have done.”

The Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice can provide information about the physical and other aspects of the dying process, according to hospice information. It can assist with conversations about advance directives that detail a person’s choices for end-of-life care. It also can help family members prepare for an expected home death.

Even if a death is not expected in the near future, “it’s still sometimes nice to touch basis with this program to get information and get your affairs in order,” Easterly Ketah said. “It's the gift you give your family.”

She emphasized that not planning ahead can place pressure and stress on family members, and even can result in putting “somebody that doesn't even know you in charge of your life.”

“We want to avoid that,” she said. “We want you to make your best decisions, your words, and (hospice) can help give you the words, paperwork and actions to put you in control of your life.”

The forward planning, informational, referral and community education aspects of the Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice program coincides with its end-of-life assistance services that are most closely associated with hospice care.

“Hospice care involves a team of trained volunteers in an approach tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes during the transition period of dying,” according to hospice information.

The Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice has about 18 volunteers who can provide coordinated direct and respite care for patients, in addition to respite care for caregivers. There are about four hospice volunteers on Prince of Wales Island.

There also is “assurance that someone will simply ‘be there’ to let the patient know he or she is not alone,” according to hospice information.

Easterly Ketah said each KVH volunteer is vetted the same way as PeaceHealth employees, and complete a 20-hour training program.

In many cases, physicians will refer patients who have a terminal illness to hospice. Individuals can contact hospice directly, as can family members or others in the community who have permission from the patient to contact the hospice program.

“I’ve taken referrals from even facilities out of town or families out of town,” Easterly Ketah said.

After the referral has been made, Easterly Ketah, as the program’s coordinating registered nurse, visits the residence to do an assessment of the needs of the individual and family. A hospice care plan, which includes direction from the patient’s primary physician is developed.

During her conversation with the Daily News, Easterly Ketah detailed how hospice resources can provide patients and families with knowledge about the dying process and navigating the last stages of life in ways that can provide an element of peace to all involved

The Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice also has assistance available for those who are grieving after a death.

In addition to written information and one-on-one conversations about grief, the Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice offers two eight-week grief workshops each year.

Easterly Ketah said the workshops don’t provide a “cure” for grief. However, “the blessing that comes from that (class) and the lifting of the spirit that comes from that class is so obvious.

 “When you do intentional grieving, intended, grieving, you have taken your own health and wellness into your hands and you will be a healthy individual for a longer period of your life,” she said.

The assistance available from the Ketchikan Volunteer Hospice is free of charge. Community and memorial donations and fundraising efforts contribute to the financial resources of the program.

One of the fundraising events is the memorial tree at The Plaza mall. The tree is decorated with ribbons bearing the names of loved ones.

A memorial service to remember people who have died in the community during the past year is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Saturday at the memorial tree at The Plaza, according to hospice information.