St. Vincent Hospice Review
In nearly everything I have looked up, St. Vincent Hospice has received very high and favorable reviews. This makes me wonder 2 things: Was our experience that much of an anomaly or are the home care providers’ expectations for hospice services in general that low?
Our decision to hire a hospice service was well thought out and, we thought, well researched. We spoke with hospital personnel; we researched online; we interviewed several hospice representatives. During our interview sessions, I took copious notes as to what each service had to offer, how they differed, etc. I was very glad I did this. It enabled me to confront our hospice “team” regarding what they said their program offered vs. what we actually experienced.
I clearly remember a comment that was made during the interview process, I guess to make us feel better: “There are hundreds of families that do this every day.” I do not doubt the validity of that comment, but it does not begin to address the difficulties that are brought to bear when one signs on with a hospice and when said hospice drops the ball time and again.
My sister had been in the hospital for 5 weeks and was dying from cancer. By the time we (her husband and I) made our decision to hire St. Vincent’s, we took my sister home on a Friday. We were nervous and concerned about our roles as caregivers, of course, but the staff kept reminding us they have nurses on call 24 hours a day. That Friday afternoon, we were told to expect “our” nurse, one of the main “team” members we were supposed to count and rely on. She arrived very late in the afternoon and had me a bit concerned about some things, which I immediately addressed. She assured us she would be with us for awhile. Prior to leaving, she also reminded us of the 24 hour nurse-on-call policy, should we require help. Well, it turns out we did require help. Here’s what the folks at St. Vincent’s don’t tell you: There is a nurse on call…maybe two. But there are a whole lot more folks calling for help than there is help available. The call center can tell give you a time frame in which to expect the nurse, but you will surely get bumped if something more urgent arises. So although we called and requested additional medical help, nobody made it to our house that difficult first weekend.
The following week, a different nurse showed up. It was his job to tell us that—surprise—“our” nurse was now being replaced and they had not yet reassigned anyone to us. In our initial interview, the woman kept stressing we would have a “team”; we would feel “supported”. Instead, I felt like we were left alone to fend for ourselves. I felt like my sister and my family were an afterthought of St. Vincent’s.
Also, I learned to be leery of the whole nurse situation. Perhaps it was the time of year. Perhaps our situation was way out of the ordinary. But the theory that we would have essentially one nurse assigned to us did not pan out, either. Oh, we had a nurse assigned and he was a bright spot during the week…when he was on duty. He took so much time off during my sister’s last month that we were again never 100% certain who would show up. This brings with it its own set of problems: Incessant repeating of facts our main nurse would have known; the comfort levels of the patient and other care givers; different ways of handling situations. Furthermore, we were not always notified. Some nurse would show up and assume we knew to expect a substitute; we usually did not. Strangers often entered our home at a time when emotions were fragile and nerves were frayed. In fact, having been given no warning, our case nurse was not available the week my sister died. The nurse with us that last week was so kind and caring, but there were uncomfortable moments of just not knowing who would show up. This was another added burden during what is, to date, the worst week of our lives.
In reviewing what was promised vs. what was provided, it is important to discuss the home health care workers supplied by St. Vincent’s. They do have them, yes. But, at least in our case, they did not work with us. They would call very early in the morning and say they were on their way. Never did they ask if that was convenient for us or offer to pre-schedule an appointment. I will admit, my sister was very lucky that her husband was able to afford to hire a full time home health aide from a local company throughout this experience. There was one aide in particular from St. Vincent’s who did not view this as an opportunity for two people to work together for the benefit of my sister. Instead, she took it up herself to boss our agency worker around while she herself did as little as possible. In our own best interest, we asked to discontinue the use of St. Vincent Hospice home health aides.
Finally, I’d like to address the social worker fiasco. We were told that was our main liaison. From our perspective, the role of the social worker was either grossly misrepresented when we had our initial interview or we just got shafted. Weeks went by with no communication from the social worker. I finally called and requested a meeting. The primary goal was to go over the pre-hiring notes and promises as compared to the reality of what was not taking place. To the social worker’s credit, she admitted that we had indeed fallen through the cracks. Unfortunately, as I pointed out, this was our one and only experience with this organization and we hired them based on what we had been promised. And not that even this meeting really mattered much. Our social worker quit several weeks later and the new one surfaced just about the time my sister passed away. So instead of the comfort of someone we had come to know and rely on for support, we were confronted with a stranger in our space, making the whole situation even more tense, impersonal and unpleasant for us.
I regret, for the sake of my sister, that we hired St. Vincent’s Hospice for the last 3 months of her life.