Thank You, Forbes Hospice, for Being There the Closing of the Hospice Inpatient Unit Is a Great Loss for Our Community and for Those Who Need Loving Care as They Face the Greatest Loss There Is, Writes Nurse Rachel Walton

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

Thank You, Forbes Hospice, for Being There the Closing of the Hospice Inpatient Unit Is a Great Loss for Our Community and for Those Who Need Loving Care as They Face the Greatest Loss There Is, Writes Nurse Rachel Walton


Turning left off the elevator on the eighth floor and walking through the wide swinging doors on the way to visit their loved one, a husband, wife, daughter, son, brother or sister knew that this was a different kind of place. A place dedicated to something other than the rush and intrusions of previous hospital visits.

On the right was a food station with soup and cookies for families. The halls were wide and uncluttered by machines, cords, carts and beeping monitors. Nooks had places for families to sit and rest. Two family rooms had couches and comfy chairs for family gatherings with laughter and tears. Single bedrooms had beds covered with quilts. Patients were dressed in nightgowns or T-shirts cut down the backs with ties.

This unit was originally the Forbes Hospice Inpatient Unit, and it had become the Allegheny Health Network Healthcare@Home Inpatient Hospice Unit. A place where patients and families could come for respite care; expert symptom management when pain, nausea or delirium was too much to manage at home; or care in the last days of life when there was not enough help.

Perhaps most important, family members knew that, at this most tender time, they would be surrounded by people who had dedicated their careers to caring for those at the end of their lives. The nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, unit secretaries and doctors were committed to bringing comfort and support to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual concerns of the families and patients facing this great threshold.

'What would I have done?'

Consider Mr. A., who was at home doing his very best to care for his wife who had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years before. She had started to exhibit distressing symptoms of delirium. She couldn't settle. She sat, stood, sat, stood. Her thoughts raced. She talked incessantly without making sense. She couldn't sleep. Despite an agitated body and mind, her spirit remained kind. After days without reprieve, Mr. A., in his 70s as was his wife, was worn out. They both needed more help.

Mrs. A. was admitted to the inpatient unit. To ensure her safety, a nurse or aide stayed with her around the clock. With the staff's expert understanding of medications and symptom control, along with diligent and continuous monitoring over the next 48 hours, Mrs. A. found peace. The staff worked tirelessly to ease the distress of Mrs. A. and her husband. Numerous calls to offer emotional support with Mr. A. ended with, "What would I have done if I couldn't have brought my wife to the inpatient unit?"

The delicate and intensive nature of adjusting Mrs. A's medications would have been challenging if not for the knowledge and skill of the hospice-trained personnel.

The staff members of the inpatient unit have cared for a 30-year-old woman with three young children who died from gastrointestinal cancer. Not only did they care for her physical symptoms but their attention also was with the well-being of her dear husband and their little ones.

They cared for an 80-year-old woman with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who came and went with intense trouble breathing. In the end she came to the unit to die because the staff had become part of her family.

They cared for an elderly man who lived shallow breath by shallow breath, emaciated, week after week. They bathed him, kept his skin clear and his body free of pain.

And, they cared for a baby, the first-born child of a young couple. Working far outside their comfort zones, they remained committed to bring comfort and support to suffering.

They not only cared for these people. They loved doing it.

'This basket is for staff'

This past Christmas, a young man in his 40s, slight build, dark hair, arrived on the unit with a basket filled with treats.

"Is this the hospice unit?" he asked.

"Yes," the nurse answered, assuming he was looking for a patient's room. …

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