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Category: COVID-19

Gaston Hospice Feature News: Providing Comfort and Care in a Global Pandemic

This article was provided courtesy of The Gaston Gazette

Gretchen, a registered nurse, has worked with Gaston Hospice for six years, while Wanda, a certified hospice and palliative care nursing assistant, has worked with end-of-life patients for 16 years. Gretchen and Wanda both see six to eight patients per day, some as often as three times per week, others just once a week.

Gretchen describes her duties as being the primary care nurse, the case manager, and a link between patients and family care physicians. She helps manage the uncomfortable symptoms that can afflict a dying patient. Wanda talks of giving baths to patients, some of whom are bed-bound, helping them with dressing, and with personal tasks. Both women emphasized the goals of keeping patients as comfortable as possible and allowing them to remain at home for as long as possible.

Many health care professionals speak proudly of their role in helping patients to get better, in assisting them in recovery from an illness or injury. Yet Gretchen and Wanda know going in that the men and women they deal with are not going to get better, are not going to recover. So what is the appeal of hospice work?

"I think part of it goes back to time I spent with my grandparents," answered Gretchen. "I have always respected the elderly. That's where the hospice philosophy speaks to me. I truly believe that the end of life can be just as special as the beginning. It is just so important that folks feel they can keep their dignity."

Wanda spoke of her time working in home health care and of a temporary assignment to hospice care.

"I watched how the nurses worked with the patients," she recalled. "The compassion they felt, the connection they had. I felt the connection. I came to believe that hospice is a ministry, a sacred ministry, and I moved over to work full time."

My next question was difficult to phrase, but I felt it needed to be asked.

"You ladies are both compassionate and caring," I said. "You are bound to develop relationships, close relationships with your patients. How do you deal with the ongoing cycle of loss that you must go through?"

"We rely on each other a lot," said Wanda of herself and the other members of the hospice team. "We embrace each other, we support each other. We love each other."

"It can be a kick in the gut," said Gretchen. "Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when often we were the patients' only contact with the outside world. We forge great bonds. We become friends."

The team of which Wanda spoke includes not only her and Gretchen, but also the family physician, a medical social worker, a chaplain, if wanted, a bereavement counselor, and volunteers.

"Our chaplains don't proselytize at all," Gretchen said. "They're simply there to support the patient in their faith and to let them know they are not alone."

In addition to providing home care, hospice teams can also work with nursing home residents and on-site care is provided at the Robin Johnson House in Dallas.

Dealing with COVID-19

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 made a tough job even tougher for hospice care providers. Safety protocols mandated that Gretchen and Wanda be fully protected when going into patients' homes, including the wearing of a regular mask, a surgical mask, a full gown, and shoe covers.

"It was tough," said Gretchen. "We often felt as if the patients could not see us and many of those who were hard of hearing had difficulty hearing us when we were wearing masks. We were literally covered from head to toe."

A bit of creativity went at least a little ways toward establishing that caregiver-patient connection.
Team care leaders came up with the idea of large buttons, containing an image of each team member's smiling face, to be worn on the outside of all that protective gear so that patients could at least have an idea of just who was working with them.

Julie Young then took the idea and ran with it, producing the buttons which Gretchen and Wanda were wearing during our chat.

Both women urge those not yet vaccinated to consider taking that step.

"Do your research, talk to your primary care physician, and then make your decision," said Gretchen.
Vaccines are now available at most drug stores and primary care medical practices. Anyone wanting to make an appointment with a CaroMont Health office may go online to

A closing remembrance

Talking with Gretchen and Wanda, and seeing the tears well in their eyes as they remembered the patients they have lost, brought back bittersweet memories of my own mother's death a little more than 15 years ago.
Mom had been the picture of health and vigor until felled by a sudden stroke at age 90. Contradicting the opinions of the doctors who expected her to die within a few hours, she instead held on for three weeks.
For the final two weeks of that transition, she was under hospice care, and more magnificent care it could not have been. The words used by Gretchen and Wanda -- concern, comfort, compassion, and respect -- were given to my mother and her family in abundance.

All of those things allowed her passing to be not just a time of sadness, for sad it truly was, but also a time of togetherness, of comfort, and of celebration as mom crossed over through her own sunset and into a most glorious sunrise.

For that, I can only say, "Thank you."