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Hospice in west-central Wisconsin underutilized

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If there were services available to give quality end-of-life care to a terminally ill loved one, would you use them? What if that same program helped your family cope during this difficult time?

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The obvious answer would be "yes." However, based on a recent analysis to determine area hospice utilization, many residents who qualify for hospice in St. Croix, Pierce, Polk and western Dunn counties are not using the services.

Only about 39 percent of all patients who died in the U.S. in 2007 were under the care of hospice, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

"Compared to the national average, west-central Wisconsin underutilizes hospice care by nearly two-thirds," said Mary Troftgruben, executive director of Adoray Home Health and Hospice, Baldwin.

"We don't know exactly why it is so low in this area," Troftgruben said, "but there are a lot of myths about hospice."

Myth - Hospice means giving up hope.

"Hospice care is about 'living until you die,' and our staff and volunteers support that in ways that are meaningful to our patients," said Kristen Straining, Adoray hospice manager.

Hospice services aggressively address physical symptoms and help patients deal with difficult spiritual or psychosocial issues. Patients often stabilize and even improve once they begin receiving hospice care.

Myth - Hospice care is expensive.

"Most people don't realize the tremendous financial burden that is lifted with hospice care," said Straining.

Under the hospice Medicare benefit, and with most insurance companies, the hospice agency accepts a set payment amount per day. With this set amount, the patient receives all visits needed for care, including visits from nurses, social service workers, spiritual counselors, aides and therapists. The benefit also pays for all medications, supplies and equipment needed in caring for the patient's terminal illness.

"We need to do additional fund-raising to cover our costs, but most of our patients and families never even see a bill," Troftgruben said.

Myth - Hospice is only for cancer patients

Hospice services are available to any individual with a life expectancy of six months or less, regardless of their illness. Hospice serves patients and their families who are coping with the end-stage of conditions such as heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, lung disease, stroke or kidney disease.

Myth - Hospice is a place you go and stay

Most hospice care is provided to patients in their homes, and some receive hospice in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The not-for-profit Adoray wants to raise the awareness of hospice benefits, according to Troftgruben.

"We want to provide information about hospice so residents can make informed decisions regarding care for themselves or a loved one."

Adoray serves patients in St. Croix, Pierce, Polk and western Dunn counties. For more information, call Adoray at (715) 684-5020 or (800) 359-0174, or go to www.adoray.org.

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