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The Hospice of Choice for Western Pennsylvanians Is VITAS® Healthcare

By Lois Thomson

In 1978, a terminally ill cancer patient in Florida told an unlikely duo, “I don’t want to die in the hospital. I want to be at home.”

Esther Colliflower, a nurse and teacher, and Hugh Westbrook, a United Methodist minister, were happy to oblige.

As the founders of the company that eventually became VITAS Healthcare, Esther and Hugh were developing a model of care called “hospice” to help patients near the end of life find comfort and dignity. Over more than four decades, VITAS spread the hospice model across the country and lobbied for legislation that safeguards patients’ access to their preferred care near life’s end.

Today, VITAS is the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, serving over 19,000 patients every day. VITAS first began providing care in Western Pennsylvania in 2005, and today cares for more than 200 patients and their families daily.

Hospice has grown since the late 1970s, yet its methods and practices are often mysterious to those who haven’t experienced them firsthand.

This arm’s-length approach to the end of life has led to some misconceptions about the care that surrounds it. Our goal is to dispel the myths with facts and hope:

  • Hospice is not a place. It’s a model of comfort-focused care, usually provided in a patient’s home or preferred setting (e.g., nursing home or assisted living facility).
  • Choosing hospice does not mean giving up; in fact, studies suggest that hospice patients live longer, higher-quality lives than patients who continue curative treatment until death.
  • And hospice does not rely on high-dose narcotics to dull patients’ senses. While pain-relieving drugs might be prescribed to ease symptoms as needed, VITAS offers integrative services such as music, massage and art therapy to provide relief with greater awareness and fewer side effects.

VITAS proudly offers services and treatments that other hospices cannot or do not. From veteran-focused programs to pet visits from our beloved Paw Pals®, VITAS supports patients on emotional, social and spiritual levels while providing compassionate clinical care.

Music therapy is especially popular with our patients and families. Licensed music therapists promote calm, pain relief and memory recall through evidence-based interventions such as collaborative performances, singing, active listening, writing and movement.

Even patients who struggle to articulate feelings or communicate verbally can benefit from the presence and talents of a guitar-strumming or keyboard-playing music therapist. Unresponsive patients often “light up” at a favorite song or clap to the rhythm of a new tune.

These unique professionals supplement the comfort-focused care delivered by our hospice teams, each comprising a physician, nurse, hospice aide, social worker, chaplain, volunteer and bereavement specialist. Hospice teams also support patients’ families and day-to-day caregivers.

For everyone at VITAS, from admissions to marketing, from home care to our talented music therapists, hospice is more than a job–it’s a calling. And for those of us in Pennsylvania, it’s our calling–and our honor–to help you or your loved one.

For more information about end-of-life care services, call VITAS Healthcare at (866) 759-6695 or visit VITAS.com.

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