Santa Cruz County: More Medicare patients choose hospice at end of life than anywhere else in the Bay Area

By Linda Donovan, Grief Support Volunteer – Hospice of Santa Cruz County

I was very impressed, but not surprised when I read the excellent article in the San Jose Mercury News, The Cost of Dying: A shift in how we end our lives. This article highlighted how more Medicare patients are choosing hospice over hospitals at the end of life. It referenced research that said 70 percent of Californians would rather die at home and 67 percent said it was extremely important to not burden families with care costs. The article discussed the value of “shifting patients to hospice and family homes where caregivers try to ease the discomforts of dying.”
Santa Cruz County was highlighted for having 53.1 percent of Medicare patients choose hospice at end of life in 2010 —the highest proportion of patients selecting hospice in the Bay Area. That was about 10% higher for Santa Cruz than in 2007. In fact, Santa Cruz is one of the few areas where’ out of pocket costs for these people declined. Why didn’t any of this news surprise me? Because my family used Hospice of Santa Cruz County services when my late husband was terminally ill and I’ve been actively involved as grief support volunteer for hospice since 2008. I’ve seen, experienced, and shared the gift that this hospice provides to people with compassionate care at the end of life.
The article mentioned that Santa Cruz stands out for its low-intensity, high-touch standard of care. It attributes Santa Cruz County’s success to the tight bond among doctors, hospitals, and civic groups and referenced the value of Hospice of Santa Cruz County: “Additionally, its leading hospice has existed for 35 years, cultivating trust.”
Michael Milward, CEO of Hospice of Santa Cruz County, said in the article, “We have a remarkably collaborative community that is able to meet each other at the edges, having tough conversations that involve high-quality, low-cost and practical solutions.” According to Milward, by having these conversations, hospice knows who can offer the best service to people at the end of life, as well to their families.
What does this best service look like when people choose Hospice of Santa Cruz County? It includes an array of qualified people, resources, and services available to meet the many needs of seriously ill individuals and their family. When you or your family selects this hospice, a whole team is assigned to help. The social worker identifies needs and concerns    and helps guide the individual and family through this difficult time. Nurses visit regularly and can be available at 24 /7 with just a phone call. It’s like the old days of when doctors routinely made house calls instead of sick people having to wait in an office lobby for medical treatment. Medications and medical equipment are delivered to the home. A chaplain is available to provide spiritual guidance. Volunteer visitors offer much-needed support to everyone involved with caring for their loved one.  Hospice even offers   transitional care services to support people who are not yet ready for hospice care and need help with clarifying their healthcare decisions and identifying other community resources.
Grief support is a critical service provided by Hospice of Santa Cruz County. Resources are available to help the family while they are caring for their loved one. After the loss, people in the community can attend one-on-one grief support sessions, scheduled grief groups, or specialized programs, such one focused on the needs of children. These services help prepare people as they adjust to their lives after the loss. In addition, grief support services are not only for hospice families — they are also available to the entire community.
Hospice of Santa Cruz County continues to make a difference in the lives of so many people. Just recently, hospice broadened its reach by opening a Center for End of Life Care in Watsonville. I’ve seen and experienced the depth of compassionate care by hospice. Having it recognized in the San Jose Mercury News article validates the commitment and service of this amazing non-profit organization.