Medicare-certified hospice comes to San Juan, offers new hope for recipients

I want to let you know about a health care service now available to San Juan Island residents.

On May 1, Skagit Hospice in Mount Vernon activated a Medicare-certified hospice program on San Juan Island with the plan that these services will extend to other islands when the program meets its goals.

Until now, San Juan County has been the only county in the state of Washington without a Medicare-certified hospice program. This means that San Juan Island residents on Medicare have not been able to receive the professional services that their Medicare benefits pay for on an “as needed” basis.

A Medicare-certified hospice is different from the excellent volunteer hospices that already exist in the islands. Skagit Hospice offers comprehensive professional services, paid for with a patient’s Medicare benefits, that include nurses skilled in comfort care, medical social workers skilled in end-of-life care, chaplains and bereavement specialists.

Medicare benefits also pay for the medications required by the patient for the terminal diagnosis as well as for consultations with therapists, if needed.

For a patient to receive these services, hospice must get a physician’s order stating the patient has six months or less to live. Skagit Hospice hopes to work with the dedicated volunteer hospices that already exist in the islands in order to provide even more comprehensive services.

The San Juan Island team consists of Houston Taylor, RN, from Shaw Island; Mary Kingery, LPN, from Lopez Island; Sister Judy, chaplain, from Lopez Island, and Ingrid (Bauer) Fabianson, LCSW, from San Juan Island.

Staff in Mount Vernon also support us. They include: Wendy Lewis, clinical manager; Thais Armstrong, volunteer coordinator; Wendy Hubenthal, bereavement coordinator; and Annette Coffman, community liaison.

People often wait to call hospice until the last few weeks of life because they believe that the acceptance of hospice services means giving up hope and giving up treatment.

Now there is a new approach in hospice called Open Access that allows a patient to continue with certain life-sustaining treatments while still benefiting from hospice support services. The hospice medical directors administer this program on a case-by-case basis.

The real focus of hospice is on quality of life: to help patients live as fully as possible even though their body is breaking down. Hospice services are most effective if used early in the terminal diagnosis so hospice staff can provide the needed comfort care and support. Research has shown that full hospice care often extends, not only the quality of life, but also life itself. Skagit Hospice’s motto is “Compassion and dignity every moment of life.”

I know, as a long-time islander, that new programs from the mainland are often received with suspicion and doubt. I worked with a Hospice in Bend, Ore., before returning home and I can vouch for the services that a Medicare hospice provides.

If you would like more information, please call us at 1-800-894-5877 or stop by our local office in the Technology Center at 650 Mullis St., Building A, Suite 103. You can also find out more by attending our monthly forums at the Village at the Harbour every first Wednesday of the month from noon to 1 p.m.

Ingrid (Bauer) Fabianson, LCSW, is a medical social worker with Skagit Hospice.