Lake Norman & Mooresville

Care at the end

For Huntersville resident Navin Enand, hospice care is not about dying, it's about living.

When his father's leukemia took a turn for the worse in early 2011, Enand's family enlisted the help of the Levine & Dickson Hospice House in Huntersville.

"Hospice wasn't trying to cure him, they were trying to make him comfortable in his final days," said Enand. "Hospice isn't geared toward extending the time you have, they just try to make the patient and the family as comfortable as possible.

Enand's father died in March 2011. Enand honored the service his family received from Hospice with a charity poker tournament a couple of weeks ago.

Laura Fitzpatrick, administrator of the Levine & Dickson Hospice House, said there are many ways residents can help Hospice, including fundraising and volunteering.

Fitzpatrick said the need is great at the house, especially since more patients than ever don't have health insurance to cover their stay.

The Hospice House helps about 600 people a year, many of whom die within two weeks of arriving, she said.

On average, it costs the organization about $675 to $700 a day per patient for inpatient care, though Medicare reimburses Hospice about $652 per day. Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance plans cover hospice care, and the organization provides subsidies for patients who don't have insurance. Last year, the Hospice House provided about $500,000 in unreimbursed care.

Hospice also provides care in the home for a much lower rate, about $146 per day, and offers subsidies for those without insurance. "Each family situation differs, and we work with the families to answer their unique questions," said Christine Brown, senior director of marketing and community awareness.

"It's our mission that every person has a high-quality end-of-life experience, regardless of whether they have insurance or not," said Fitzpatrick.

Patients and their families have access to a number of resources at the Levine & Dickson Hospice House, including chaplains, nurses, nurses assistants and social workers.

"This is a holistic approach. We're not just trying to manage their pain, we're trying to reduce or eliminate their suffering and be there for them during this difficult time so they know what to expect."

Cheryl Manus, who came to the Hospice House from at-home Hospice care a couple of weeks ago, said she's thankful for the peace of mind that Hospice has provided her and her family.

Manus, 41, of Belmont, has terminal colon cancer, and doctors have said she has just weeks to live.

"I think they are amazing," said Manus. "I never thought in a million years I would feel this kind of comfort, this kind of love."

Manus's mom, Beth Hochstetler of Belmont, said she was also surprised by the level of support she's received.

"Since we've been here, the staff has made us feel at home," she said. "Yesterday I got into a bad place and LuAnn (Reed, a social worker at the hospice house) just talked with me and helped me and let me vent to her."

Fitzpatrick said there are a lot of misconceptions about Hospice care, such as you have to be just days from your death to receive it.

"We wish we'd been able to serve families sooner. We wish they had known about it sooner," said Fitzpatrick.

Nicole Wolfe, regional director of Hospice and Palliative Care Lake Norman, agreed.

Wolfe's office oversees hospice care that visits people where they live.

"We truly like to have patients under our care for months to a year because the goal is to have them have the best quality of life possible," she said. "The more time we have, the more closure we can provide them. We're able to create more memories and help people navigate that journey."

Wolfe said a Duke University study suggested patients under hospice care live an average of one month longer.

Fitzpatrick said the nonprofit organization plans to continue raising awareness about what they do in order to help more people.

"We've been delivering hospice care for over 33 years," she said. "We're experts in caring for the whole family. We're a very specialized team of experts in end-of-life care."