Family Member, Nurse Talk Benefits of Saint Francis Home Health and Hospice

Decisions about end-of-life care can be heavy and challenging. However, the Home Health and Hospice Services Program at Saint Francis Healthcare System helps make the process as easy and comfortable as possible for patients and families.

Debbie Petty, who has had four family members use the Saint Francis Hospice program, said her family decided to put her mother, Marilyn Blankenship, in Hospice when she was very ill and constantly in and out of the hospital.

At first, some of Petty’s family members had reservations about the idea of Hospice. Petty said she arranged a meeting with the Hospice nurses where they explained the Hospice process and benefits to her family and answered questions.

“It put the whole family at ease, and they were OK with it,” Petty said.

Petty said her mother’s quality of life improved significantly after receiving care at home. One nurse in particular, Bernadette Hannaford, grew close with Petty’s family, and still gets lunch with Petty whenever she can today. Petty considers Hannaford part of the family.

“I just cannot say enough about the care. We are a hugging family, so Bern just fit right in with us,” Petty said. “Bern and I shared special moments together too, because it was hard.”

Hannaford made sure Marilyn always had a personal goal to work towards. Her first goal was to make it to her wedding anniversary in April. They continued to set goals which included making it to Christmas and other big events, and she ended up almost making it to her next anniversary.

Overall, Hospice nurses aim to make a patient’s experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for the patient and their family. Hannaford said taking care of aging parents at home can be more work than anticipated.

“It is very time consuming, it is very draining, so we like to teach [families] the best ways to do things so it is not so stressful,” Hannaford said. “It is also keeping them from hurting themselves; if they are lifting mom or dad and they hurt their back or something, and now they cannot take care of them, then what are they going to do?”

Petty said the Hospice staff’s advice on how to administer medication was especially helpful, and she often called the Hospice nurses for guidance to make sure they were doing it correctly.

Hannaford’s work with Petty to administer medication and make sure her mother was in good hands allowed Marilyn to spend the end of her life doing things she loved like reading and helping around the house in the ways she could.

Petty’s mother-in-law was also put into Hospice care. Before Petty’s mother-in-law passed away, her father had a severe stroke and required Hospice care, and the day after her father passed, her brother-in-law went into Hospice.

“It was a lot, but we could not have done it without Hospice,” Petty said. “They were always there, you could call them any time, day or night, and they would call you right back and be there as fast as they could,” Petty said.

Because of the relationship Hannaford formed with Petty’s family while caring for Marilyn, she already had a special connection with Petty’s father when she cared for him.

“We were already good friends. He was always telling me a joke,” Hannaford said.

In fact, Petty’s father called himself the “Cowboy poet.” Fred Burgard, the Saint Francis Chaplain working with the family, put Petty’s father’s poems to music and sang them as he played guitar.

“He’s good as gold, and he loved coming to visit my dad,” Petty said. “It was a wonderful relationship we had with him.”

Petty said the Hospice nurses were very present for the passing of a family member. She said they were there for the family even after their loved ones passed and would call periodically to check in on them over the next 13 months. Petty described Hannaford as a strong support, good sounding board and good shoulder to cry on.

Hannaford said out of her 32 years of working in healthcare, the seven years she has spent in Hospice have been her favorite part.

“I have met so many wonderful people in this job,” Hannaford said. “I really like it and I am glad I can help.”

Although Hospice work can be sad and mentally draining, Hannaford said she finds fulfillment in the field.

“In a way, it is a calling,” Hannaford said. “When I first started Hospice, I was not sure if I was going to like it, but it has been the most rewarding job I have ever had.”

Home Health services are available in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, New Madrid, Perry, Scott and Stoddard counties. Hospice services are available in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Perry, Scott, Stoddard and parts of New Madrid counties. You can learn more on our Home Health and Hospice Services Program page or by calling 573-331-5180.

Story by Lizzy Stock, Southeast Missourian