An End to Volunteer Hospices? Fox Valley Hospice Officials Will Challenge State Lawmakers on Care Standards

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Smith Daily Herald Staff Writer

Even doctors are amazed Danette Lasson is still alive.

The single mother from Aurora has been battling cancer for seven years, undergoing dozens of radiation treatments and surgeries, four years of chemotherapy, and a mastectomy and breast reconstruction only to have the cancer spread from her breast to her lungs and brain.

But Lasson plans to keep fighting as long as possible.

"My boys need me," said Lasson, a mother of three.

She no longer works and can't drive very far, relying on friends from her church to take her two youngest sons to and from school every day. A volunteer from Fox Valley Hospice sometimes drives her to medical appointments or checks on her at home.

Lasson has come to rely on the volunteer, Carole Hosler, for moral support over the past 4 1/2 years. Hosler, 71, has become like a mother to 46-year-old Lasson, whose own mother suffered a mentally debilitating stroke 13 years ago.

"I don't know what I'd do without (Hosler) because she's just a rock for me," Lasson said.

The relationship between Lasson and Hosler, of Elgin, is perhaps made more precious by the fact that most hospices don't admit patients who, like Lasson, continue to seek chemotherapy, radiation and other potentially lifesaving treatments.

That's because, unlike Fox Valley Hospice, most hospice programs operate under Medicare standards. To receive Medicare's hospice benefit, a patient must agree not to seek curative treatment.

Geneva-based Fox Valley Hospice operates under different standards because it is privately funded and volunteer-based, providing free care to patients.

But under a proposal in the state legislature, all Illinois hospices would be required to follow Medicare hospice care standards. Fox Valley Hospice is fighting the change, saying it would require the organization to stop serving patients like Lasson, drop "hospice" from its name or shut its doors.

"If we were gone, all the moms seeking treatment for breast cancer would not have the hospice benefit," said Nancy Vance, the hospice's development director. "It would be a travesty to see us go away."

Supporters of the proposed amendment to the state's hospice licensing act said it benefits consumers by requiring all hospices to comply with the same care standards. It was introduced by the Illinois Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a nonprofit hospice education and advocacy group based in Chicago.

Volunteer hospices don't have to provide nursing services under the current law. Nor do their employees have to pass criminal background checks required of other state health care workers, said Carolyn Handler, a board member of the Illinois Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and president/CEO of Medicare- approved Hospice of Northeastern Illinois in Barrington.

"Right now consumers don't necessarily know that there are various levels of hospice care being provided," Handler said.

State Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Palatine Republican and the proposal's sponsor in the House, said her intent is to clarify the definition of hospice and how it is provided in Illinois.

"When people get to end of their life, they're not always clear on what they're doing," Bassi said. "They're in crisis, usually, and they don't stop to ask what kind of hospice it is. …