Rural Hospice That Spurns Federal Funds Has Offered Free Care for 40 Years

Helping her father die at home “was the most meaningful experience in my nursing career,” said Rose Crumb. She went on to found Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County in Port Angeles, Wash. Dan DeLong for Kaiser Health News

 

[pullquote] The free services and four decades of expertise at the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County are hard to beat. [/pullquote]

Jonel Aleccia for NPR shares the story of a unique and rare type of hospice care that can be found in Port Angeles, WA. Rose Crumb, a 91 year-old retired nurse, founded the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County in 1978. Her commitment to the volunteer and donation-based structure for nearly 40 years has made the organization stand out in a sea of profit-driven, hospice corporations speckling the United States.

Crumb first found interest in easing the experience of dying people after reading “On Death and Dying” by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross when it was first published. Later, her father was diagnosed with lymphoma and Crumb found honor in helping him die at home. From then on, Crumb estimates that she has witnessed or helped ease the deaths of hundreds of people.

It is significant to point out the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County accepts no federal funding or private insurance. They thrive on the work of 160 volunteers and just 10 paid staff. The organization has had its’ difficulties, especially in the early years, when volunteer hospices were not yet legally exempt from federal regulations. The legal fight to remain open with a small budget, volunteer staff, and flexibility of care was supported by the community and Rose Crumb’s son, a corporate lawyer. Recently, a corporate hospice moved in to the community and the competition has not deterred either organization. The free services and four decades of expertise at the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County are hard to beat.

Port Angeles is a small, remote community in Washington State. The survival of this healthcare institution is inspiring. The citizens of Clallam County say they can keep better watch on the organization than federal regulations and that it wouldn’t be in operation today if there was neglect or abuse.

Today, Rose Crumb is in her 90’s and experiences some of the health problems with which she helped so many people cope. She says she is ready for hospice and has all her paperwork to ensure her death is how she wants it.

Brittany Maynard’s Widower Continues Fight for Her Legacy.

[pullquote]  Medical aid-in-dying, just as with VSED (Voluntary Stopping and Drinking), is a choice made by those who want to live but instead, after understanding they have no curative options, then choose between two different types of death.  [/pullquote]

It was heartwarming to personally talk on the phone with Dan Diaz not too long ago. Both of us are working to uphold the legacy of our loved one who died. Dan’s wife, Brittany, died by taking advantage of the Death With Dignity law. She had to move to Oregon to do this. My husband, chose to VSED (Voluntarily Stop Eating and Drinking) so he did not have to live into the late stages of Alzheimer’s.

Read this article to learn more about Brittany Maynard and Dan Diaz. Brittany was 29 when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. She had exhausted all of her options for treatment, including an eight8 hour brain surgery. The tumor would not stop growing and she was determined to have six months to live. Brittany and her husband made the choice to move to Oregon where it was legal to experience gentle, medical aid-in-dying. She chose to die on November 1, 2014. Since that day, her husband Dan continues to share his personal story and tirelessly pursues politicians in every state, imploring them to vote in favor of medical aid-in-dying legislation like Death with Dignity. He carries on his late wife’s story so that others may benefit from the same gentle death she experienced.

Dan Diaz makes a point of distinguishing the importance of terminology. This is not “suicide”. Medical aid-in-dying, just as with VSED (Voluntary Stopping and Drinking), is a choice made by those who want to live but instead, after understanding they have no curative options, then choose between two different types of death. Diaz continues his fight to legalize medical aid-in-dying because he wants others to legally have that choice in the face of impossibly difficult decisions.

When New Cancer Treatments Do More Harm Than Good

[pullquote]  Like many people in his shoes, my father opted to try the new drug because he thought it might help. It was expensive, but his insurance would cover it, and the high price seemed to suggest it was special. It was also better than doing nothing.  [/pullquote]

Cary Gross, professor and cancer researcher at Yale University School of Medicine,  writes a personal opinion piece for the Washington Post. Gross’ life work is to study whether new cancer treatments that are successful in small trials will be therapeutic in routine clinical practice. His 80-year-old father, diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, was offered and took the opportunity to try a new cancer treatment drug, despite the limited research data available and the high cost.

“Like many people in his shoes, my father opted to try the new drug because he thought it might help. It was expensive, but his insurance would cover it, and the high price seemed to suggest it was special. It was also better than doing nothing.”

Gross’ continues to explain the nuances of cancer treatment drug trials. The Food and Drug Administration approved of this specific treatment with only 100 patients studied. More often than not, these drug trials are also performed on younger, healthier adults whose bodies simply respond differently than one of an 80-year-old. In fact, his father experience further debilitation as a result of the side effects of the new cancer treatment. Unable to walk and bedbound, he was in a rougher shape than when he has started.

Cary Gross explains that the government regulations are about to be loosened by President Trump in order to support pharmaceutical companies.

“The 21st Century Cures Act has already created a pathway for companies to obtain FDA approvals with less rigorous evidence. At the same time, large funders of research that study the safety and effectiveness of drugs, such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, face uncertain futures in the current Congress.”

Cary Gross ends by strongly stating that people deserve more treatment options and focus should be placed on creating more possible, available cure for diseases. However, prioritizing research and the effectiveness of such drugs is necessary. Evidence-based treatments must become available so that they no longer do more harm than good.

Legality Surrounding the Choice to VSED

Death and dying feels like a messy matter at times. If we haven’t come to terms with our mortality, how can we even begin to think about and exercise our choices.

It is complicated and often intense to think ahead of time about how we want to die. Considering our choices requires deep introspection. For example, VSED is a complicated choice and it requires sufficient support. First the individual has to determine if it is right for him or her. Then loved ones have to support the individual’s decision. It takes time and effort to communicate with medical and legal people to ensure that everything will be carried out properly.

In this blog, I want to focus on the legal issues. I highly recommend that someone who is considering VSED consults with an elder law attorney. Do this well in advance. Not all elder law attorneys will be comfortable with or knowledgeable about VSED. We were fortunate to have a forward thinking elder law attorney. She knew much more about VSED than an estate planning attorney or a family law attorney.

The elder attorney will draw up documents to ensure that your wishes are followed and are within the realm of the law. In our case, my husband had his Health Directive that was filled out and updated as needed. Because he had Alzheimer’s and was still mentally competent, he filled out the Alzheimer’s Advance Mental Health Directive. This can be found on the End of Life Washington website. It is excellent, and it often requires the assistance of an elder law attorney.

My husband was certain that he wanted to avoid ever living in a dementia facility, but he only had so much control. If he landed in a dementia facility, however, we had already talked about our financial assets with our elder law attorney so that there would be money to take care of him and also money left for me. It can be very complicated. The Alzheimer’s Directive also covers decisions involving day to day choices about where someone would like to be treated and cared for. Different scenarios and options are covered in this fine Directive.

Here is a link to the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Mental Health Advance Directive.

Many people ask me about the legality of VSED. Yes, it is a legal option in the United States. I strongly encourage you to look at the white paper written by Thaddeus Pope and Lindsey Anderson called “Voluntarily  Stopping Eating and Drinking: A Legal Treatment Option at the End of Life. It was this document that convinced my husband to VSED.

Another document that our elder law attorney drew up was a document to eliminate risk to the caregivers, the doctor and myself. I also filled out a similar document. Both were witnessed and notarized.

So, there is lots to think about. I encourage you to read my book, Choosing to Die. All the details are covered in the book. It is both a memoir and a guidebook.

Spiritual Beliefs are Important when Preparing for your Death

Many religions accept death as a part of life or a state of transition. Discussing death as a part of life, being more accepting and educated about end of life care is something thinking about long before you die.  Write all your needs in your Advance health directive and talk to your health providers about it. We can all live our lives to the fullest and not fear death. Death occurs to everyone. It is simply a part of life.

 

If you are interested in different religious ideas around death, this is a great resource. By expanding our thinking cross-culturally we can understand death in more than our own way. Education is a key part of the dying process. By thinking about what occurs after death can make death more approachable. Even if you are not religious assessing your values and how you want to leave your body can affect your end of life decisions.

Reading about beliefs and aspects of other spiritual practices can help you identify how you see death and want to make your directive for end of life.

http://lmrpcc.org.au/admin/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Customs-Beliefs-Death-Dying.pdf

Loddon Mallee: Regional Palliative Care Consortium

Honoring Dementia Patients In End Of Life

It is challenging to talk about end of life options with someone who already has dementia. If they are in the early to mid stages of dementia and are still mentally competent this article will help guide you to have better conversation with your loved one. Discuss how the person with dementia thinks about death. How do they see themselves passing? If a health directive has not been completed yet, it is essential to do so now. All wishes should be written down so that when the time comes, all of the loved ones and caregivers are on the same page.

Because my husband and I had so much conversation about his end of life choices, he had a peaceful passing.

Because my husband and I had so much conversation about his end of life choices, he had a peaceful passing. He had a thorough health directive at the time of his death. He had the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Advance Directive  (End of Life WA state).  We were well informed. Different states have different requirements for end of life papers. There are many sites that will help you find the right directive for you in your state.

For more explanation and details about my husband’s personal passing the section Alan’s Transition on my website .

How to Talk about End-of-Life Care When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s Disease

When my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, instead of living into the late stages, he chose to vsed. I was his advocate. We discussed everything. He had excellent support. In order for my husband to have a good quality of death there was a lot to talk about. Being able to comfortably talk about end of life is essential in order to prepare for a good quality of death.. Informing ourselves and others without judgment is key to living a good life and having a good death. Cultivating support systems will help yourself and others.

This article reiterates the difficulty of discussing end of life with someone in every stage of Alzheimer’s disease and how you can try to communicate how they want to leave their body

The Conversation Project is a great resource for end of life preparation and support.

How to Talk about End-of-Life Care When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s Disease

End of Life Choices For Young People With Life Limiting Conditions

Many parts of Europe are far more enlightened about end of life choices and the compassion that surrounds it. It is horribly sad when we think about young people dying early in their life. Yet when this occurs, we want to have compassionate choice available to us. End of Life choices affect not only elder people but young people too. Below is a link to a full case study and guideline recommendations on how to deal with end of life care, compassion and choices with young people 0-17 with life limiting conditions. 

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng61