Partners in Care home health aide Doreen C. specializes in caring for hospice patients. “One of the best things about hospice work,” she says, “is that by the end you’re family.”
Doreen had been working for four years as a Partners in Care home health aide (HHA) to Mary* when, at a routine medical appointment, the doctor asked her to step outside so he could relay some confidential news to her client. Mary insisted that Doreen remain in the room, however. Together, they received the unexpected diagnosis of stomach cancer.
Her doctors recommended hospice care, and Mary and her family agreed to enter VNSNY’s Hospice and Palliative Care program. Doreen was sad at the prospect of losing her longtime patient—but then Mary surprised her by insisting that she stay on.
Her new role would require skills beyond what Doreen had learned in her initial three-week HHA training course, so the following week she received an immersive full day of hospice training from Partners in Care. This instruction included everything from learning about pain medication to techniques for managing the intense and unpredictable emotions that end-of-life patients may experience.
Since going through that training four years ago, Doreen has cared for several dozen hospice patients. She doesn’t think of it as a job—to her, it’s more like a calling. “I prefer working with hospice patients,” says the aide, who moved to New York from Jamaica 25 years ago and hasn’t lost her charming lilt. “Caring for the dying can be a hard job, but I like knowing that the people I’m caring for don’t pass alone. I love to hold their hand, stroke their hair, and offer them what might be their last comfort.”
Providing comfort and calming reassurance is a keystone of VNSNY Hospice’s mission. The program prioritizes respect for family choices and individualized care, and aims to carefully match clients with experienced, empathetic aides who can meet the needs of both clients and their families.
“Doreen is one of our most experienced home health aides,” says her Partners in Care supervisor, Donna Langlais. “She’s able to work with different types of personalities and bring out the best in her clients and their family members. She truly cares about her clients and their families, and many of them have expressed their gratitude for her help in making the transition a little less stressful.”
Like many hospice home health aides, Doreen works two shifts a day from Monday through Friday, caring for one patient from 9:00 AM to noon and another from 1 to 5 in the afternoon. While every day is different, a typical day might include helping a patient bathe and get dressed, prepare and eat meals, take walks, shop, and go to appointments. Doreen might read or watch TV with a patient, sit and talk with them—or just listen. While they’re resting, she’ll clean or do laundry.
“The most important thing about this job is having love and compassion,” notes Doreen. “Without that, you can’t take care of people.” As the caregivers that patients see most, Doreen and her fellow hospice home health aides are integral parts of each patient’s larger hospice care team, which includes a supervisor, a hospice nurse, a social worker, a nurse practitioner, and a hospice physician. Working together, the team assesses the patient’s condition through regular visits, making sure that symptoms are being managed and that their physical and spiritual needs are being met.
There is always sadness when a patient passes away, but Doreen prefers to focus on the positive. “One of the best things about hospice work,” she says, “is that you arrive as a stranger, and by the end you’re family.”
* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.