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“Uncertain.”
“Unprecedented.”

Whatever you call the times we’re in these days, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly has disrupted our lives and our work. While the pandemic has impacted many professions, none has been affected more directly than those in health care delivery.

Since having a close loved one receive hospice care years ago and having a friend draw his last breath at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, I have known and respected the incredible work of the Hospice Austin staff for quite some time. Now I am privileged to chair Hospice Austin’s Board of Directors, which has given me a closer view. I admire what I see: I’m so impressed each day by the positive things I witness about the Hospice Austin team.

Even more impressive is the staff’s professionalism and adaptability to find new ways to deliver excellent, compassionate care and support patients’ loved ones despite a global pandemic. A year ago, none of us could imagine the upheaval we face now; yet these earthly angels plunge ahead, undaunted, doing the very best for Central Texans. COVID-19 has forced our people — doctors, nurses, certified nurse aides, social workers, chaplains, and managers — to reinvent and modify the ways they care for patients and their families.

Melanie Haigh-Hutchinson

People like Hospice Austin COVID-19 Response Team Admission Nurse Melanie Haigh-Hutchinson. This summer, she answered a hospital’s call to begin hospice care for a 47-year-old patient who had spent five weeks on a ventilator. The hospital had previously summoned the gentleman’s wife, who had arrived believing that her husband’s condition was improving because his co-workers recovered. His body was actually succumbing to the disease. With Melanie present for support, his wife made the difficult decision to let doctors remove the ventilator from her husband. Melanie gently explained to her how the morning would go. She held the woman’s hand as they watched the monitors through the room’s window as his vital signs declined and his breathing slowed. Melanie was grateful she could be there to support and comfort the woman during her husband’s final moments.

This past spring, Hospice Austin created the COVID-19 Response Team on which Melanie serves, to safely care for victims of the pandemic. The selfless physicians, nurses, CNAs, social workers, and spiritual team don the armor to care for these contagious patients, just as they care for all others.

Other hospices have refused to accept COVID patients out of concern that they don’t have the capacity or PPE to care for them. Not us. Hospice Austin welcomes all patients, regardless of their diagnosis or ability to pay.

Has 2020 presented challenges? You bet it has.
Hospice Austin has struggled to secure expensive and life-protecting PPE. Our team had to develop new systems and processes to care for patients through telemedicine and in person. Managers transitioned office staff to work remotely.
We canceled fundraising events including the popular Beauty of Life brunch to keep our supporters safe, which caused a significant loss in donations.

Meanwhile, our community needs us. We have provided 55% more charity and uninsured days of care this year than last, while serving a record number of patients over the past year.

“Thank you” just doesn’t seem strong enough, but I thank
each of you – our friends in the community – for the support and encouragement you have given our nonprofit agency. Hospice Austin continues to gratefully accept contributions to sustain our mission.

I also wish to encourage our incredible team. What they do
every single day has a positive effect on people’s lives. Each day, they make a difference. For every patient it is the first and last time they face the end of life; it matters enormously. Therefore, what our compassionate caregivers do matters enormously.

I thank the staff for their service to our patients and their families; for having the courage to strap on their scrubs and masks, or to make more phone calls or Zoom meetings, or to comfort patients’ loved ones, or to make smart and difficult decisions… only to gird themselves to do it all again tomorrow. Years from now those patients’ loved ones, like the woman Melanie comforted that day, will remember the wonderful things the Hospice Austin staff did in these uncertain and unprecedented times – and so will the board and I.

 

Brent Annear
Chair, Hospice Austin Board of Directors