In proclaiming November National Hospice Month, President Bush said, “The compassion reflected in hospice care is one of the reasons America has the best health care system in the world. By taking the time to care for others, they are making America a better place.”

Last year, Hope Hospice helped to meet the medical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of more than 4,000 patients and their families in southwest Florida. Our patients range in age from newborn to more than 100 years old, with any type of life-limiting illness. As an example of our efforts to anticipate and meet every need, when we recently cared for a newborn, one of our art therapists created a beautifully designed print of the baby’s hands and feet, as a treasured remembrance for the parents. In another instance, a woman in one of our Hope Hospice Houses wanted to see her daughter get married but was unable to travel. On very short notice, our care team arranged a beautiful wedding in our own chapel, led by one of our chaplains.

In 2004, we served well over half of everyone who was facing end-of-life issues. Although that figure is much higher than the national average, we cannot rest until everyone becomes aware of the help available at this critical time. Toward that end, we recently opened Joanne’s House at Hope Hospice in Bonita Springs, a beautiful 24-bed care facility that enhances access to hospice services for everyone in southwest Florida.

An important part of our work involves helping people and other healthcare professionals to understand the value of hospice care services to patients and families. Hope uses an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals and specially trained volunteers to provide pain management, symptom control, psychosocial support, and spiritual care to patients and their families. The earlier that a person at the end of life is referred to hospice, the more we can help in relieving their pain, easing their emotional stress, and helping the family to cope. There are many who are not yet aware of this, and they wait unnecessarily before seeking care.

Fortunately, we are seeing more and more people in our community looking for information about care at the end-of-life and advance care planning, well before they are faced with a health crisis. Hope is a resource for anyone in need of information about care options and ways to make sure their wishes are met should they face a serious or life-limiting illness.

Hope is working to make southwest Florida a better place by offering our services to everyone in need, and serving as a resource for making informed decisions about end-of-life care. Raising everyone’s awareness of how we can help is our goal during National Hospice Month.