National Hospice Month: Providing for the patient’s physical needs, spiritual needs, and just being a friend


Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – The sounds of bells ringing signaled the start of National Hospice Month, which kicked off in Dickinson County with a ceremony at Iron Mountain City Hall.

The remembrance service included family members of hospice patients who had died during the past year and staff and volunteers with the program in Dickinson County.

In January 2011, Dickinson County once again had services available when OSF Hospice in collaboration with Dickinson County Memorial Hospital began to serve patients. And since that time, OSF has provided hospice services to 98 patients and their families.

“November is a wonderful time to celebrate this important type of care and remember that it has a very important history in the U.P.,” said Ilene Kotajarvi, volunteer coordinator.

The roots of the OSF program date back to 1979, when Bay de Noc Hospice became the first and oldest hospice program in Michigan. Dr. Paul T. Werner, the first medical director and one of several founders of the program, began working with a group of interested Delta County residents in 1978 to help organize the first hospice program in the state. Bay de Noc Hospice served its first patient on Sept. 14, 1979.

“At its inception and for several years after, Bay de Noc Hospice was run entirely by volunteers, many of whom continue to serve on the OSF St. Francis Hospital Community Advisory Board,” Kotajarvi said.

In 1995, the agency merged with OSF St. Francis Hospital to become OSF Bay de Noc Hospice. This merger enhanced the services available to residents in Delta and Menominee counties. This year, OSF Hospice is celebrating 35 years of providing quality hospice care.

But even with this long history, many people still don’t know what hospice is all about.

“Hospice is for patients of all ages with life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live, who have decided not to pursue curative or life prolonging treatment. These patients want to focus on palliative or comfort care in their own home, nursing home or assisted living facility. Hospice nurses are trained in pain management and symptom control,” Kotajarvi said.

She added that many times patients won’t use hospice services for fear or due to misconceptions.

“The National Hospice and Palliative Organization did a study a few years ago that found that in some cases with hospice coming in early and providing services, it improves the quality of life and in some cases people may live longer. They get proper pain control and that gives patients a better quality of life. Hospice is not all about death – it’s about living your life to the fullest for as long as you can,” Kotajarvi said.

Another misconception is that hospice is only for cancer patients.

“It’s also for people with heart disease, kidney disease, as well as our growing aging population with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Kotajarvi said.

She said that so many different disciplines work together in hospice for patients and their families including a doctor, medical director, social worker, chaplain, nurses, aides, and volunteer care.

“We all come together to provide for the patient’s physical needs, which include pain control and symptom management, spiritual needs, respite care for the caregivers, and just being a friend to the family and patient,” Kotajarvi said. “And the thing is that you don’t have to use every service that is offered through hospice. You can pick and choose what you need or want the most. You are in control with Hospice and what services you want to be provided.”

Patients may want to accomplish certain things with the help of hospice and the staff and volunteers work to help them achieve that goal.

Some of the unique services available include creating a DVD of that person’s life.

“We also have some wonderful books that can be put together called a Mother’s Legacy or a Father’s Legacy,” Kotajarvi said. “There are step-by-step instructions to walk you through writing these things down to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren.”

She added that OSF Hospice upholds three basic principles in its work with patients:

– Commitment to making patients as comfortable as possible.

– Recognition that dying is part of the normal process of living.

– An affirmation and celebration of life that neither hastens nor postpones death.

Bereavement care is also available to families for up to 13 months.

As a community service, OSF provides ongoing community grief support groups on the second Thursday of every month at Dickinson County Memorial Hospital. And in November and December, OSF will offer “Surviving The Holidays Grief Groups,” Please call (906) 786-4456 for more information.

OSF Hospice also offers a No One Dies Alone (NODA) program, where volunteers will sit with dying patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This program has recently been added to the services offered in Dickinson County, And since April 2009, OSF Hospice volunteers have served more than 650 hours with NODA.

Linda Lobeck’s e-mail address is