Grace Mills knew very little about home health care coming out of nursing school. In her first nursing position, she worked in the hospital setting. Around that time, a friend who was working in home health spoke very highly of her experience with her employer, Enhabit Home Health & Hospice.
Based on what Mills learned from her friend about home health and the company, she took what she calls a leap of faith and accepted a role in the Community Care Program at Enhabit. As a part of this program, home health agencies provide care in settings such as independent or assisted living communities, to help older adults age in place.
“I loved seeing patients in the community and getting to build those relationships,” she shared.
The role also gave her an opportunity to discover her true calling: hospice.
Unlike some of her colleagues, Mills did not have a personal experience with hospice. As a home health nurse, however, she had the opportunity to work closely with the Enhabit hospice team.
“A lot of my very close patients that I took care of transitioned to hospice,” she explained. “I got to see how incredible it was for our hospice team to take care of those patients at the end of life.”
When Mills had the opportunity to move to hospice, she made the change. She is now a regional administrator for Enhabit, overseeing hospice services for several branches.
“Hospice was definitely where my heart was,” Grace recalled.
Getting to know patients on a deeper level
Mills learned that home health care was much different than nursing had been in a hospital. When she was caring for a patient in a hospital, Mills didn’t feel like she was seeing the full picture.
“When you get to go into the home setting to take care of patients, it’s a completely different ball game,” she observed.
She found that she got to learn more about family dynamics and see what each patient’s living situation was really like. This really helped her get to know her patients and gave her the context to create strategies that patients would be more receptive to.
Each hospice team is interdisciplinary and can be made up of social workers, chaplains, nurses, aides, therapists, doctors and nurse practitioners.
“We truly have the opportunity to care for the patient holistically by collaborating with an entire team that has different areas of expertise and specialties.”
The Enhabit hospice team often works closely with colleagues in home health to provide a continuum of care so that the focus remains on the patient, even during transitions from one care setting to another.
Unlike some other types of health care, hospice provides support to both the patients and loved ones to address the emotional needs throughout the process as well. Together with the patient and their loved ones, the Enhabit team creates a circle of care to ensure the patient’s needs and goals are being met.
Connecting with caregivers
Throughout her time working in hospice, Mills has many experiences and memories that have stuck with her. She recalls one such patient who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although his wife was a nurse, she was in labor and delivery, so geriatric care was foreign to her as she stepped into this new role as a caregiver.
She considers herself lucky to have had the opportunity to care for this patient from the time he entered hospice until he passed away. During this time, Mills got to know both the patient and his wife. The patient was a little harder to get to know. He was stubborn, she recalls, and was reluctant to tell her what was going on.
“He really didn’t want me to be in the home,” she said.
Eventually, she succeeded in cracking through the patient’s rough exterior. As time went on, she also became close with his wife. She worked to teach her how to take care of her husband and also how to not take things personally, since his behavior was sometimes affected by Alzheimer’s.
“We laughed together,” Mills remembered. “We cried together. I felt like I gained more from that experience than I can ever give. I feel that a lot.”
She knew that she was able to make an impact on her patient’s life and make his final months more comfortable. In addition, she was able to be there for his wife. Even now, years later, she is still in touch with the patient’s family.
There are many things Mills wishes she could change about how people perceive hospice.
“When we are ready to live the best life with whatever time we have left, whether that’s a month or six months, hospice is there,” she said.
The sooner patients can begin hospice services, the better. Mills prefers having at least six months with a patient because it makes the experience and quality of the patient’s life so much better.
“You’ve got people in the home getting to know you, getting to know your family dynamics, getting to know your specific disease process and how it’s affecting you.”
While Mills acknowledges that there may always be people that don’t fully understand hospice, she already sees change happening.
“By educating one person at a time who then shares what they have learned with the next person they meet, we can help more people take advantage of the benefits hospice offers,” she said.
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