Hospice is the bridge that helps terminally ill patients and their families navigate the health care system in the final stages of life, while also providing emotional and social services support for the entire family.
In Pasco County, Gulfside Healthcare Services has been providing hospice services for more than 30 years, and helps over 1,000 families every year care for their loved ones, and provides grief counseling and spiritual guidance to help patients through their final journey.
Heading up hospice services at Gulfside is Kathy Postiglione, who started work at the agency 15 years ago as a registered nurse, and today is chief operating officer and senior vice president.
“As a nurse, what attracted me to hospice care in the beginning, and still captures my heart today, is its holistic approach to patient care that is driven by the patient and family,” said Postiglione. “It is the most personal type of care found in nursing, and one that has not changed much since the hospice movement was founded in the 1970s.”
The hospice philosophy provides care in the comfort, security and privacy of wherever a patient calls home, by bringing together a team of professionals who addresses the patient’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
“Our team of nurses, physicians, ministers and social workers works together to find out what the patient needs, discuss the best options for his or her wishes, and helps to set pain management goals,” said Postiglione.
Hospice care begins with a discussion between the doctor and terminally ill patient and the family, who together agree to bring hospice in for a consultation.
“Often it’s the patient who says, ‘I’m done, and no longer wants additional treatments,’” explains Postiglione.
The initial meeting can be in a patient’s home, hospital, assisted living facility or nursing home, and include nurses, both RN and LPNs, hospice medical staff, social worker and chaplain. Up to 10 people can be at the initial meeting, plus staff from the facility.
“We also work with the patient to identify personal goals they want to accomplish – it could be to write their personal story, put together a video, try to re-connect with family members and friends they have lost touch with, and often mend some bridges,” said Postiglione.
Once a patient enters hospice care, the Gulfside team provides interdisciplinary medical support and services, which are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also has resources to help with legal and financial services involving end-of-life care.
“Patients and families are often so overwhelmed by what needs to be done, that they are very anxious. We break down the tasks and set up a plan to help them accomplish their goals, while providing the care the patient needs to relieve pain, and make the journey as peaceful and comfortable as possible,” explains Postiglione.
Being in hospice care does not mean patients need to give up treatments, and often continue to see their own doctors.
“Patients sometimes want to continue their treatments, and we are here to support the patient in any way we can,” said Postiglione.
Since its establishment in 1989, Gulfside Hospice has grown from an organization run primarily by volunteers, to a full-service health care entity that employs over 330 people with an average census of 550 patients. When Gulfside began operations, it had just 15 employees and was servicing 50 patients.
While most patients are older adults and seniors, often diagnosed with cancer, Gulfside Hospice also cares for terminally ill children and young adults. Patients typically come into hospice when their prognosis is less than six months, and the average length of stay in the program is 70 days.
One area that makes Gulfside Hospice unique compared to other hospice organizations is its ability to provide patients with more expensive medications.
“When a patient has a need for a more expensive medication, we never deny the request, because we have the resources to provide medication that Medicare may not pay for,” said Postiglione.
Gulfside has been able to keep up with Pasco’s population growth because of its ability to attract top professionals to its team.
“We place a tremendous value on our employees, and consistently seek feedback from them on their challenges, equipment they need, the schedules that work best for their families,” said Postiglione. “We have a very dedicated group of people, most who have worked here for many years, because of the high satisfaction they get by working with our patients and families.”
Gulfside Healthcare Services also works with over 200 volunteers, many who become involved after hospice has cared for a loved one.
“Many of our volunteers give the gift of presence — which is staying with patients who may not have family or friends close by, until they pass. Others work in our dietary area, bringing meals to patients in our in-patient facilities. We also have volunteers who take care of patients’ pets, and many volunteer at our thrift stores, do office work and help at fundraising events,” said Postiglione.
For patients needing critical nursing care, Gulfside Hospice operates the Rucki Hospice Care Center in Zephyrhills and the Gulfside Center for Hospice Care at Heather Hill Healthcare Center in New Port Richey. Its thrift shops are located in Lutz, Dade City, Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and Hudson.
“People are often surprised at the range of services we offer at Gulfside Hospice,” said Postiglione. “We are proud of our ability to help many Pasco families in one of their greatest times of need.”
Published November 20, 2019