MARQUETTE - The word "hospice" often carries with it a stigma of the end, or giving up.
To 93-year-old Anna Richmond, hospice brought a sense of relief from a 17-month stint in assisted living that had left her less satisfied with her quality of life.
"I was very unhappy," Richmond said. "I could do most things for myself and didn't need assisted living."
Anna Richmond, left, a resident of Snowberry Heights in Marquette, talks with Deb McDonnell, a medical social worker for Lake Superior Hospice. McDonnell has been visiting Richmond for the past 15 months. (Journal photo by Abbey Hauswirth)
After Richmond developed heart complications in August of 2011, she told physicians she did not wish to continue with doctors and hospitals. This decision led her to Lake Superior Hospice and a new lease on life.
Richmond, who is a resident of Snowberry Heights in Marquette, said when a friend was preparing to enter hospice, she heard comments such as, "That's the last step. She's heading out." This statement was what Richmond had always connected hospice with. She, and her daughter, Karen Anderson, said hospice is something they had to be educated on and are still learning about.
"People hear the word hospice and think there is nothing else they can do. If we can dispel that myth, we hope to help people understand there is a lot we can do for them," said Deb McDonnell, a medical social worker with Lake Superior Hospice.
The mission of Lake Superior Hospice, which opened in 1979 and is one of the oldest hospices in Michigan, is to advocate for patients and help empower them to live life to the fullest. Samantha Collins, the director of volunteers and outreach, said the volunteers deserve a great deal of recognition for many hours of service to hospice patients. More than 80 people donate their time to help with the many aspects of hospice care.
Lake Superior Hospice recently received the 2012 U.P. Volunteer Service Award and the 2012 Marquette County Volunteer Program Award.
"I believe people who work in hospice are called to this," McDonnell said.
McDonnell works with patients on what she called, "legacy work," which focuses on a patient's life and what he or she has done. To McDonnell, this work reaffirms that their lives have meant something. Legacy work also is targeted at identifying any past troubles with family and bringing families together to reconcile toward the end of a person's life.
Aside from the support offered to patients, the staff at Lake Superior Hospice strives to ensure that the families of patients are also taken care of. This includes providing grief counseling and assistance from social workers.
In addition, volunteers are available to stay with patients and allow family members a break, even if it is only for dinner or a walk. Lake Superior Hospice also offers a five-day program in which family caregivers who are ill or need to travel for a few days may do so while their loved one is taken care of in assisted living. Afterward, the patient can return to the comfort of his or her own home.
Although hospice is a service that comes into play near the end of a person's life, McDonnell said the reward of being allowed to be a part of the lives of patients and their families far outweighs the sadness.
McDonnell has been visiting Richmond at Snowberry Heights every week for the past 15 months. She said it has been a privilege to work with patients like Richmond, who she said she has learned a great deal from.
Collins echoed McDonnell's feelings.
"This is such a vulnerable point in a person's life," Collins said. "To allow us to be part of their journey is so rewarding."
When asked why she enjoyed hospice, Richmond grinned and said,
"I can sum it (hospice) up in just a few words: hospice is a Godsend ... I couldn't have it better."
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 240.