family hospice: 35 years of care

Family Hospice and Palliative Care has been providing end of life services for 35 years. In 1980, the idea of hospice care was relatively new, and there were not many organizations in the area that offered the service. Family Hospice was created by Mercy Hospital, St. Clair Hospital, South Hills Health System and South Hills Interfaith Ministries. Family Hospice’s mission is “to provide compassionate, quality comfort care that enhances the lives of people with life-limiting illness and their families.”

Family Hospice Moffett Street facility.

Hospice has two inpatient facilities—one is the former Ward Home on Moffett Street, and the other is in Lawrenceville. The Moffett Street location has 12 very comfortable patient rooms that are about the farthest thing possible from a hospital room, administrative and clinical offices, and an auditorium. But the bulk of Hospice’s services take place in patients’ homes. In 2014, Family Hospice provided care for more than 3,600 patients.

There are a lot of misconceptions about hospice care. People who have never used the services often tend to associate “hospice” with “going somewhere to die.” That’s not hospice.

pet therapy - close up
Hospice care includes pet therapy and a specialized program for children.

Hospice care is making the last few weeks, months, or even years of someone with a terminal illness as comfortable as possible. Programs for family members include caregiver training and bereavement support, and there is a specialized program for children.

Lynette Brooks, Midway Road, became aware of what hospice can do when a close friend used their services in the last few months of her life. So when her husband, Ted, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Lynette says there was no need for discussion.

“We didn’t have to talk about it,” she says. “It was a no-brainer. Our oncologist told us that everything that could be done medically has been done, and we knew it was time to go home and call Hospice.”

Family Hospice sent a social worker to the Brooks’ home, and she spent two hours on the phone, wading through copious amounts of health insurance and Social Security red tape. Just that single service, coming at a time when nobody in the family is functioning on an even emotional keel anyway, is invaluable.

Hospice arranged for visits from nurses and nurses’ aides, delivery of medical supplies, necessary drugs, everything that Ted needed to be able to live out the rest of his life comfortably at home.

After Ted passed, Lynette volunteered at Family Hospice for a couple of years. She still volunteers at the Hillman Cancer Center, passing on to caregivers some of the hard lessons she has learned.

“I feel like we need to educate people,” she says. “Too many people think calling hospice is giving up. It is so far beyond that. It’s absolutely necessary for the family. End-of-life care helps people die as well as they’ve lived.”

Family Hospice is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a dinner at South Hills Country Club, on Thursday, November 12, at 5:30 p.m. Guest of honor is Carol Sayers Vockel, who has been a Family Hospice volunteer since the beginning. The evening will also feature a roundtable discussion with the Pirates’ family from the 1970s. This will include players Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, and Kent Tekulve, as well as announcer Greg Brown. Paul Alexander from ROOT Sports will moderate the discussion.

Tickets are $100 each, and can be purchased online or by calling 412-572-8812.