Thirty years after beginning medical school, I am truly humbled by how much I still have to learn. Advanced directives and end of life care are uncomfortable topics that were mostly glossed over during my education and training. As Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s hospice and palliative care medicine fellow, I am devoting much of this year to their study. The highlight of my program so far has been the time I spent with East End Hospice. Their mission statement reads: “improving lives across Eastern Long Island through expert comfort and compassion for terminally ill patients, caregivers and grieving families,” and EEH’s team of dedicated and compassionate individuals pull together to make it happen every single day. After my first 4-week rotation there, I can honestly say “mission accomplished!”
I learned that the hospice approach based on relief of distressing symptoms allows patients to stay home through most if not all of the final chapter of their lives, and that East End Hospice can help them die on their terms and with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve.
Patients whose symptoms are too distressing can be expertly managed at the Kanas Center; a peaceful oasis nestled in a serene creekside setting in Quiogue.
Hospice care distills the caregiver-patient relationship to it’s true essence. No more bloodwork, imaging tests, consultations or curative treatments are ordered. There are fewer computers in the way, and much more open and honest dialogue with patients and their loved ones. Much of what I have learned here ought to be core material for medical students and residents in all specialties: how to be more empathetic, how to ask open ended questions and be a better listener, how to determine and respect patients’ goals of treatment, and how to discuss, plan, and deliver proper end of life care. Dying is just as much a part of life as being born, and every patient deserves high-quality, compassionate care even when they are beyond cure. Although death is inevitable, suffering does not have to be.
I learned that East End Hospice has Long Island’s only 5-star rating from the Center for Medicare Services. From what I have witnessed, their providers, nurses, aides, social workers, administrators, volunteers, chaplain, housekeeper, facilities manager and every other team member consistently go above and beyond to maintain that rating. Everyone I met views their work as a calling, not just a career. The staff and volunteers are so dedicated that their enthusiasm is simply contagious. Together they have created a rare utopian enclave within the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system and we as a community reap the rewards of their tireless efforts.
Patients at Kanas and their families were so gracious to allow me to participate in their care. Many, many sincere thanks to each and every one of you who let me into your lives and shared your loved ones’ final days with me. I am eternally grateful knowing that the knowledge and wisdom I have gained here will help me to better serve our East End community now and in the future.
Finally, I learned that running a not-for-profit entity is a constant uphill battle. The reality is that delivering the amazing care they give costs far more than the reimbursement they receive. Keeping East End Hospice running is a true labor of love that offers a major benefit for our community, but also depends on us for it’s survival. Their Summer Gala and Box Art Auction were two of the highlights of my Summer, and a wonderful way to contribute while having a fun night out, and just two of the many ways you can help. To all who have contributed time and/or money in the past, I applaud you for supporting this extremely worthy cause.
For those of you with the means, please consider a tax-deductible gift of cash, appreciated equities, items for the thrift shop, or even including East End Hospice in your estate plans. EEH has a 94% rating on Charity Navigator, so you can rest assured that your donation will be used wisely and effectively. For those who can more easily spare your time, please consider volunteering. I can’t think of a more joyous and rewarding experience in healthcare.
I’m eagerly looking forward to my next two rotations there and participating more with home visits and the highly regarded bereavement program. I went to East End Hospice to learn more about death and dying. In the process, I am learning a lot about life.
John E. Hunt III, MD