Care team keeps patient and family safe and supported throughout pandemic, wildfires, power outages, and more

The power of teamwork in our patient care manifests itself in many ways. It shows in attention being paid simultaneously to a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It shows in the coordination between clinical and administrative staff to ensure that necessary medicines, supplies, and equipment arrive – and that the patient and family understand how, when, and why to use them. And it shows in the personalized support we provide to patient and family alike, sometimes at all hours.

While teamwork and holistic care are a natural part of hospice, as a nonprofit agency – with generous support from our community – we can offer a level of care that goes above and beyond, and we can serve patients regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. In special circumstances – like last year’s terrifying intersection of a pandemic, wildfire, and power outages – that teamwork and level of care are taken to an extraordinary level.

Rachel Tess and LydiaSince August 2020, Nurse Practitioner Michele Cronin, RN Case Manager Lydia Claesson, Social Worker Tess Murphy, and Spiritual Counselor Rachel Rosenberg have been supporting our patient Barbara after she decided to stop her cancer treatment and begin hospice care. (This article uses a pseudonym to protect her privacy.)

While Medi-Cal helps cover the costs of Barbara’s hospice care, the Mission Hospice team has gone to great lengths to provide for her other needs. She has a history of trauma, so they started by laying a foundation of honesty to earn her trust. They had no way of knowing just how important that trust would become as they helped her through the emergencies of 2020.

Barbara lives with her husband in rural San Mateo County, where – just after she started hospice care – the CZU Lightning Complex fires ignited. The team worked furiously and closely to see that Barbara, her husband, and their pets were able to evacuate safely.

Tess procured hotel vouchers so the pair – and their pets – had a place to stay. Even this was challenging: soon after they had been evacuated, that site was itself evacuated. The family wound up staying in a series of hotels during the two-week evacuation order.

“It was pretty crazy,” says Tess. “We worked together to be sure we all knew where they were, and that they were safe.” One of the logistical challenges they faced was arranging for Barbara’s medications to be delivered to various hotels.

Fortunately, the family’s home survived the wildfire, and their community rallied around them to donate things they needed as they returned home. The Mission Hospice team coordinated with San Mateo County Health specialists, who arranged for meal delivery for Barbara and her husband. They completed an application to PG&E’s Medical Baseline Program to reduce the family’s electricity and gas costs. And they requested – and received – a donation from Saint Vincent de Paul for cremation services to be provided after Barbara dies.

But just two months after the evacuation, the entire community suffered power shutoffs. Again, the Mission Hospice team went into overdrive, making sure Barbara had what she needed. “We checked on her regularly,” Lydia says, “to support her not only through the power outages, but also through the fear of additional fires.”

The team also looked at her comfort and safety inside the home. They helped Barbara make changes to reduce fall risks, and made sure she understands how, why, and when to use medications. Lydia also reminds her to use breathing exercises and music to reduce anxiety and pain.

Spiritual Counselor Rachel has shared music, prayer, and conversation with Barbara; the pair often sing together. “Rachel allowed this patient to explore all of the aspects of her illness and her upcoming death, and come to terms with her relationship with God,” says Lydia. “She feels at peace.”

“She knows we are there for her,” says Lydia. “I can’t overstate how important the team component is in her care. We consult each other regularly, to share information and make sure we are in agreement about how best to care for her. We’ve acknowledged as a team how intimate this relationship and journey are,” says Lydia. “Honesty is at the forefront of it all.”

That honesty has paid off. “She doesn’t feel alone,” Lydia says. “She knows that she has people on this journey with her who truly care for her, and whom she trusts. The fact that she’s able to understand and express this is like a gold medal for us.”