Monday, April 1, 2013

Death Panels a Solution to Unwanted Intrusion at End of Life

by Abe R Feaulx, Special Reporter

When death is near, and no cure is available, more and more patients are turning to hospice to meet their end-of-life needs. To meet those needs, more and more hospice agencies are building hospice homes. These state-of-the-art facilities provide a place for patients to spend their final days, away from the commotion of the hospital or the dreariness of the nursing home. A hospice home is a free-standing facility designed to provide a private and comfortable setting where patients can die peacefully, often surrounded by friends and family. Yet many hospice homes are finding that privacy can be difficult to maintain, especially in the final hours.

“We were sitting next to dad at the hospice home as he took his final breaths, and someone barged in to ask what he wanted for dinner,” said Tim Jordan, whose father was dying of cancer. “She meant well, but I wish there had been some way for her to realize what was going on, without me having to say ‘he’s dying here.’ “ Nancy Underhill had a similar experience: her mother was approaching death just as a member of the maintenance staff walked in to repair the broken television remote. “We mentioned the remote when she first arrived, but when they came in to fix it two days later, she was near the end and we were saying our goodbyes. The timing couldn’t have been worse.”


One hospice agency plans to put a stop to inadvertent intrusions in the final moments of life. Happy Endings Hospice, one of Fisherville's leading hospice providers, recently opened their hospice home in nearby Grim. The agency incorporated an innovative feature: Death Panels™™. “We originally wanted to make signs to hang on the door, but that seemed too gauche,” said Cecil E. Saunders, chief engineer for the project. “Then someone on our design team had the bright idea to add floor-to-ceiling sliding blinds in each room.” The large panels, tucked away in the wall, easily slide on tracks built into the ceiling, and create instant privacy. As the patient’s final moments approach, the panels encircle the bed, allowing family and friends to say goodbye in an intimate and secluded space. The Death Panels™ also send a clear message.

“When I see Death Panels™ extended, I know to stay out unless I’m called,” says Jane Parrish, hospice nurse. “I think it is a wonderful way to protect patients from unwanted disruption.” The panels each have a unique theme that matches the d├ęcor of the surrounding unit. One room, which features design elements reminiscent of ancient Greece, utilizes panels depicting Thanatos, the Greek god of death. Another room, with a more modern feel, exhibits panels covered in a simple, charcoal grey. Will Levine, the facility’s chief designer, explains the fashion choice: “I heard that grey is the new black.”

While Death Panels™ have been well received by most, they are not without controversy. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin created a national stir when she complained that the new Affordable Care Act would mandate the establishment of death panels. “I’ve read through the entire law, and I just can’t find it in there,” says Angela Harp, director for policy at Happy Endings. “I don’t understand the big deal. I mean, they’re just big slabs of wood that slide around. Quite frankly, I wish Death Panels™ were covered, because those things were expensive.” Cost aside, Angela is hoping that other hospices turn to Death Panels™ as a means to ensure that patients’ end-of-life wishes are honored. “If you or a loved one is comparing hospice agencies,” says Angela, “ask them if they use Death Panels™.” You may be surprised by the answer.

Find more great articles by Abe R Feaulx on Pallimed here:
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