Oakley couple promotes hospice care in Summit County
It is something many families with dying loved ones find difficult to understand.
"It’s sort of where you get to the point where there’s no getting better," said St. Mary’s Catholic Church Deacon Tom Tosti. "It’s not giving up, it’s sort of just accepting that this is where you are in your life and [being able to] die with dignity."
Tosti said he understands firsthand the difficulty of experiencing the death of a loved one. As deacon of the local St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Tosti’s calling as minister and spiritual counselor has taken him into dozens of homes of families searching for answers to life’s most difficult questions.
Tosti’s own father died of cancer this last year, and it was then, he said, his eyes were opened to a new kind of service that offers more comfort and healing to a person with a terminal illness and their family than a hospital can. Because of his experience with hospice and his father’s death, Tom recently became the newest chaplain of Alpine Hospice and homecare in Heber. His wife, Nancy Tosti, is the hospice center’s volunteer coordinator. In honor of National Hospice Month, the couple hopes to promote hospice care in Summit County, bringing other families the same level of comfort they experienced when Tom’s father died.
Nancy and Tom described what it was like to first discover hospice while Tom’s father was suffering from terminal cancer. The couple said, like most Parkites, they did not know very much about the alternative care service at that time.
"I didn’t even know hospice existed until my father was put in it a year ago from September," Tom said. "He had terminal cancer and he wanted to die at home. My mother, being the little thing that she is they lived in Hemet, California and she needed help caring for him."
Hospice became an option at that time since their children lived away and Tom’s parents wanted Tom’s father to be at home at the end of his life. Tom and Nancy said when the hospice service set up camp in his parents’ home, they took over everything, creating a comfortable, homey atmosphere.
"My husband’s father had suffered from cancer for over 30 years on-and-off," Nancy explained. "By the time he got to the last [diagnosis], he just wanted to be done
They brought in hospice [and] they were wonderful. They just came in and alleviated the family’s pain They were there for us at every turn, right up to the minute he passed away. It was just a wonderful experience."
Nancy said she and her husband watched the hospice staff care for and make sure their father, mother and the rest of the family were comfortable 24 hours a day until he peacefully passed away with his family by his side in his own home, which was his ultimate wish. Tom said it was inspiring to see a staff that truly wanted to create a peaceful haven for both the family and the dying individual during his father’s last days.
"He was very comfortable and died very peacefully," Tom said.
After his father’s funeral, when the couple returned home, they decided hospice service was something they wanted to look into.
"We were so touched by [the hospice service in California], we decided that it was something we wanted to get involved in," Nancy said.
Shortly after, Tom found a position open for a chaplain at Alpine Hospice in Heber. He took the job and a little later, Nancy also found a job at Alpine as volunteer coordinator. Ever since, the couple has been promoting hospice in Summit County.
They said many people in the area have misconceptions about hospice care, including doctors.
"A lot of people relate hospice to AIDS and relate it to that [a person is] always dying," Nancy said. "But we also care for the elderly who are in their last months or years, and sometimes they can [have terminal illnesses that] go on for years. You don’t have to keep your family member in a hospital they can die at home with dignity."
Tom said it is a good thing that doctors and nurses want to help a patient stay alive as long as possible. But, he says, in some cases, no drug or treatment can stop a terminal disease or illness from taking a person’s life.
"’How do I get passed this last hour?’" Tom said many people with dying loved ones ask him. "In my work with the sick, I know a lot of people in the St. Mary’s community struggling with cancer or heart disease Getting better is wonderful but, if you don’t, where do you go from there? They’re just there until the bitter end. How do you help them to die with dignity? [Hospice] is the logical next step."
Tom said hospice not only provides medical treatment and equipment in a person’s home, but also counseling for family members, and a comfortable atmosphere where the person can pass away with loved ones by their side.
"The difference between hospice and regular medical care is [hospice is] palliative, meaning it’s just for comfort," Tom said.
Nancy said hospice allows a sick person to remain with their family during what she calls a very stressful and confusing time in the individual’s and family’s lives.
"It’s not just for the patient, it’s for their family, as well," Nancy says of hospice. "We make sure the family is comfortable and the patient is comfortable. We’re there by phone 24-7 for every problem that may arise."
Tom said many people have the misconception that hospice care is more expensive than a regular hospital stay, which he said is not true.
"The vast majority of services offered by hospice is covered by Medicare," Tom clarified.
He said, in a hospital, people are charged for the base hospital stay rates, as well as nurse attendance and unnecessary medications or treatments that keep a person with a terminal illness alive when there is no cure in sight.
"When you’re a nurse, you get a lot of satisfaction out of healing. A lot of doctors think that sending someone to hospice is failing," Tom said. "But that is not true."
Tom said hospice allows a person to embrace the end of life and deal with their pain easier. If it is necessary, pain relievers are administered to patients in hospice and the staff, chaplains, counselors or other spiritual advisors are available 24 hours a day, the Tostis said.
Tom and Nancy said Alpine Hospice, like most hospice services, includes bereavement counseling for the family for a year after a loved one has passed away.
"We also do follow-up care a year after a person dies," Nancy said. "The chaplain will go and visit [the family] if there is a need for counseling [or] if they have issues with getting on with life. We offer counseling and we send our reading materials for grief support."
November is National Hospice Month, and the Tostis, along with the Alpine Hospice staff and St. Mary’s hospital, are hosting the "Caring for the Sick and Elderly at Home Community Resources, Homecare and Hospice" information session at St. Mary’s parish center on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:45 p.m.
"Caring for a sick or elderly person in your home can seem overwhelming," a prepared statement reads. "Come and learn about the many caregiver assistance resources available to residents of Summit and Wasatch Counties." St. Mary’s parish center is located behind St. Mary’s cathedral off S.R. 224, at 1505 White Pine Canyon Road in Park City.
"You are not alone," the Tostis remind Parkites. They invite the public to attend the event. Call Nancy Tosti at 435-783-5831 for more information.
The Tostis and fellow staff members at Alpine say they are certain there is no better way to care for a dying loved one than to help them live out their last days in a comfortable atmosphere at home.
"It’s rewarding being able to help, not only the patient, but the family as a whole, to come to terms with the diagnosis and to help them have comfort at the end of their life," said Alpine Clinical Coordinator Lauri Lundgreen, who has been in the hospice and homecare service for more than 16 years. "It’s so much more comfortable in the patient’s home environment because there are always more interruptions in the hospital. There’s always major stresses, and if you can get them through those, than you’re very successful It ends up being a very spiritual moment Being so close to the veil at the end of life."
Alpine Hospice provides both hospice and homecare services. Homecare services treat ill patients with the same treatments given at a hospital, only it’s in the person’s home. Hospice provides a more temporary care of both the patient and family, to provide comfort and consolation at the end of life. The Tostis said families and individuals must consult with their doctors before they can choose hospice or homecare services. It must be doctor-approved. But once a patient is approved, the hospice center and doctors can work together to create a plan for the patient, according to his or her needs. Alpine Hospice serves Summit and Wasatch counties. For more information about Alpine Hospice in Heber or to learn how to volunteer, call 1-866-272-1180. For more information about hospice, in general, visit the Hospice Foundation of America Web site, at http://www.hospicefoundation.org .
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.