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January 10, 2006 > Hospice care – dying with dignity

Hospice care – dying with dignity

Sabrina Mahajan

An ancient Indian proverb says that every journey of life has the same destination – death. When we compare this journey with our prehistoric counterparts or fast forward from there to the Victorian era, we can see how modern science has stretched this journey for many, helping individuals to persevere and extend their lives in spite of disease.

For loved ones of the terminally ill who are nearing the final countdown of life, coping with the situation can be extremely challenging in many respects – emotionally, physically and financially, just to name a few.

Pathways Home Health, Hospice & Private Duty offer a helping hand to families and loved ones with terminal illnesses through hospice services. Founded in 1977, Pathways is one of the largest providers of hospice and home health care services in the San Francisco Bay Area. With 29 years of service to residents of the Washington Hospital Township as well as other Bay Area communities, this community-based, nonprofit organization has as its primary mission: to deliver compassionate, quality health care in your place of residence that promotes comfort, independence and dignity.

“We understand that people nearing the end of life have to cope with many changes -- in medications, mobility, comfort, appetite and in priorities,” said Debra Stichfield, Public Relations Director at Pathways. Our job is to help patients and their families cope with these changes in order to keep them as productive and comfortable as possible -- for however much time they have left.”

Pathways patients receive care wherever they live - a private residence, nursing home or retirement facility. Every patient at Pathway has a nurse case manager and a social worker. If the patient wishes, a home health aid, a volunteer and a chaplain can also be provided.

Debbi Borges, a veteran volunteer with Pathways, says she was inspired to volunteer after her father was served by a hospice volunteer in the Midwest. “I learned a lot about death and dying when my Dad died,” Borges said. “I thought the hospice workers were angels who helped our entire family. I felt volunteering would be a good way to give back."

As a volunteer Borges, visits her patients about twice a week and spends about an hour during each visit and looks forward to her visits. "I visit with the patients, talk to them, sing to them and show them pictures of beautiful flowers to help them remember the outdoors. Although volunteers touch the lives of these people only briefly, we help reduce the loneliness and provide a time for the family to have time away."

Being with her patients gives Borges a tremendous sense of fulfillment, she says. “Every human being on earth is worthwhile and one can experience joy, calm and grace even in difficult situations. As volunteers we are not as caught up in the emotions of a loved one leaving. We can come and be a kind and gentle spirit providing a great service."

Last year Pathways provided services to over 300 families in the Tri-City area of Fremont, Union City and Newark. Irene Benavidez's family was one of those served. Her mother and aunt were patients at Washington Hospital and Pathways cared for both in their final weeks.

Benavidez, a volunteer at Pathways is a longtime Fremont resident and an employee at Ohlone College. "My family and I would like to truly thank [Pathways] Hospice for allowing us to honor their wishes to be home with us – their family. Knowing we were not alone was of great help." As a volunteer, Benavidez says she wants to ensure that other families receive the care they need.

To become a patient with Pathways, a family member, a patient with a doctor’s authorization or the doctor’s office can give Pathways a call to get the process started.
The cost of hospice care is covered by many health care providers including Medicare and Medi-Cal. (Please contact your individual healthcare provider for further information on their hospice care coverage).

Since Pathways is a nonprofit, community-owned hospice, the organization takes pride in the fact that they will not discontinue service even if a patient becomes uninsured.

Pathways Hospice Foundation raises funds to provide bereavement support to the communities it serves even if their deceased loved one did not have hospice care. The Foundation also helps offset the costs of terminally ill individuals that insurance does not cover.

The Washington Hospital Healthcare System is also committed to end-of-life care in their communities and is recognized as a “Pathways Angel.” This support, in the form of a grant, is made possible through Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation events such as the “Trees of Angels” that takes place during the winter holiday season to raise funds for those in need and promote greater awareness of local hospice services.

In 2004, Pathways served 6,821 patients and families. Of those, 3,301 received hospice care, 2,951 received home health care, 569 were provided with private duty nursing assistance, and 38 children with life-threatening illnesses were served as part of the Pathways KIDS Program.

Pathways employs more than 600 people, including three full time medical directors and a full time pharmacist. In addition to their staff, Pathways has over 400 volunteers throughout the Bay Area who perform in a variety of roles including organizational leadership, patient and family support, administrative services, fundraising and community education.

If you would like to become a volunteer, you must be 16 years old. Volunteers will receive thorough training prior to interacting with the patients. The training sessions span three days and are held in the evenings and on weekends). If you would like to register for the upcoming volunteer training session for the East Bay, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Taima Bayah at (510) 613-2017.

Pathways Hospice Foundation hopes to raise over $2 million this year to support their program and but will need to increase this amount in the next few years to continue to provide the level of needed support to meet a growing demand for their services to the community.

To make a donation, or learn more about Pathways, please visit their web site at

Kaiser Permanente also offers a Medicare-certified hospice program, providing a team approach of care for patients facing the final stages of a terminal illness. It enables the patient to live in dignity by offering symptom control, pain relief, and emotional support. Services include physician treatment, nursing, social work, and chaplain consultation. The program is a patient/family-centered program designed to enhance quality of life at its end. For more information and to see if this service is provided in your area, please visit or call (510) 752-6390.

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