At the Graham County Fair this year you might have noticed Lisa Davis’ Eden Health booth. While it might seem odd to have a business that offers hospice care, as well as home health and home care services, at the fair, Davis said it’s all a part of their mission to be helpful and supportive to people when they need it the most.
What is hospice care?
Hospice care is a kind of medical care for people with a terminal illness that’s meant to manage that patient’s pain and provide for their emotional and even spiritual needs as they near the end of their life.
To do that, Eden Health not only has nurses on staff, but a social worker and a chaplain to administer and spiritually console Eden Health’s approximately 60 patients in their homes around Graham, Greenlee and Cochise counties.
“Normally in regular medicine, and my mom was a nurse, it’s like ‘OK, you’re sick, we need to fix you. How do we fix you?’ But in hospice it’s, ‘You’re sick, how can I make you as comfortable as you possibly can be?,’” Davis, the assistant executive director of Eden Health said. “Do we need to bring in someone to help rub their feet or help massage their hands? You know, do those extra things that just make a person feel better, which then of course, in turn, sometimes helps them get better. But it really just has to do with taking care of the all around situation that that person is dealing with, family, spirituality, whatever that looks like. It really is an all inclusive event and that hospice nurse is like a concierge of it all and that’s what they do and they are amazing people.”
Leslie Garwood, Eden Health Hospice’s director of patient care services, likened her job and the job of hospice nurses as more akin to a conductor.
Garwood said once a patient and their family have reached out for help, a certified nurse will go to a patient’s home and assess their medical condition and needs, take vital signs, but also speak to the patient and try to get an idea of both who they are and their needs and wants and try to build and maintain a strong relationship with them. With that information, the nurse can then get in contact with a social worker or a chaplain at Eden Health if the patient needs any material, social, or spiritual need.
Davis said in the first couple of months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when toilet paper was hard to come by in stores, that service even extended to providing toilet paper to patients.
Just like the nurses will assess the needs of their patients and tailor the kinds of services they provide for them, Eden Health’s staff chaplain will also familiarize themselves with the patients’ religious beliefs and identity, if they have one, to competently assess them spiritually.
They also have some volunteers who are asked to do small tasks for the patient and their family, like take out the trash in their home or interact and be compassionate and friendly to patients.
Contrary to people’s image of what a hospice care patient might be, Davis said patients aren’t just the elderly, but also younger people with terminal illnesses, like younger women with ovarian cancer.
A hospice nurse will also act as a kind of go-between for the family, the patient and their doctor and full time caregivers so the patient and their family isn’t overloaded and stressed by having to keep in contact with a slew of different healthcare providers.
Davis said the hospice nurses’ first question when they’re invited into a patient’s home for a visit is usually “How is everybody doing today? It’s not, ‘OK, where’s the pain?’ It’s ‘How’s everybody doing and what can I do to help?’”
A hospice nurse can also be asked by the patient’s full-time caregiver to cover for them
for a day or more and provide that caregiver a break.
“Our best way is to make them and their family comfortable and when they know their family is being supported, it relieves a lot of stress for them as well,” Garwood said. “We try to encompass the whole caregiver system this patient has. Our main goal is that the patient has good comfort and is able to feel well enough to go ahead and pass. We try to relieve all the stress for them so that they can go peacefully.”
Providing that care takes nurses all across Graham, Greenlee and Cochise counties.
From Graham to Greenlee to Cochise counties
Eden Heath’s main office is in Sierra Vista, with a satellite office in both Tucson and Safford. Along with visiting patients in their homes in both Graham and Greenlee counties, Garwood said a nurse from the Safford office also drives down to Pearce, some 70-75 miles away in Cochise County two to three times a week to care for a patient there.
“Focusing on the rural community is really important to us,” Davis said.
Davis’ job involves regularly driving between the different offices of the company.
“Our people drive a lot,” added Garwood.
While Davis said Eden Health’s Safford office is lacking staff in specialized skills, like physical therapists, a lack which she said healthcare companies across the country are feeling, Eden Health’s Safford is not lacking in hospice nurses thanks to Eastern Arizona College’s robust nursing program. Davis said Eden Health was in part able to retain that staff here in Safford because most of her staff are locals who want to stay in the area and because the company is employee owned and operated, cementing the staff’s bonds to each other and the community.
“It assists in providing phenomenal patient care. It assists in retaining employees. It assists in making sure that people want to be here, because we control the environment, not her,” Davis said looking at Garwood, “or I or anybody else, we collectively control the environment and the culture that we want to work in. Taking care of each other is probably one of the best things that I think I get from what it is we do. As long as we continue to take care of each other, we’re going to be alright.”
For Garwood and Davis, that community-focused and egalitarian mindset naturally extends to their work with patients.
“It’s a very delicate job. It’s a very heartfelt job, they really have to be in it. I don’t know how they don’t cry all the time. I probably would cry all the time. They’re so special,” Davis said about hospice nurses.
“Our goal is to make them comfortable in the last part of their life. That’s our goal. We want to make them comfortable and to give their main caregivers the support that they need. Spiritually, companionship, just someone to know that they’re there to help. That they’re not alone,” Garwood said.