DEAR ABBY: Thank you for reprinting "Let Me Go" and discussing the durable power of attorney for health care. The state of Ohio has recently enacted a do-not-resuscitate comfort-care law that further protects patients who wish to be "protected" from "heroic measures." I hope other states are doing the same. However, this still may not be enough.
When our elderly aunt was a patient in a local nursing home, she made her wishes clear -- no heroic measures. She had serious asthma and a failing heart. Even though she had a durable power of attorney for health care and a DNR order, the nursing home would ship her off to the hospital every time she had a problem breathing. She would then be subjected to tubes, needles and tests -- none of which she wanted.
Finally, we convinced her to contact hospice. The hospice staff was able to educate the nursing home staff on specific ways to ease her breathing and avoid emergency hospital trips. Hospice did nothing to hasten her death. They did supplement her nursing home care, kept her comfortable, and gave the family much peace of mind. To my thinking, hospice served as her line of defense against these well-intentioned but unwelcome measures. She recently died, at the nursing home, peacefully in her sleep. -- PEGGY IN OHIO
DEAR PEGGY: I'm pleased to say that as our population ages, end-of-life issues are being given increasing attention. After the poem "Let Me Go" appeared in my column, I received dozens of letters from families who had used hospice, praising the efforts of "their" hospice team, which comprises doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, home health aides, clergy, therapists -- and loyal and devoted volunteers. Each provides assistance based on his or her area of expertise.
In addition, hospices help provide medications, supplies, equipment, hospital services and additional helpers in the home if and when needed.
I was pleased to learn that hospice coverage is widely available. It is provided by Medicare nationwide, by Medicaid in 33 states, and by most private health insurance policies. And if the patient is NOT covered by Medicare or other health insurance, hospice will assist families in finding out whether the patient is eligible for any coverage they might not be aware of. For anyone who cannot pay, many hospices will still make their services available using money raised from the community or from memorial or foundation gifts.
Most physicians know about hospice. For physicians who don't, information is available from the Academy of Hospice Physicians, state hospice organizations, medical societies or the National Hospice Helpline, 1-800-658-8898.
Readers who are interested in learning more about hospice may write: The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 1700 Diagonal Road, Suite 300, Alexandria, VA 22314. The Web site is: www.nhpco.org.