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Island Scene, Fall 2009, Seeking Peace 

St. Francis Hospice transforms end-of-life care.

“What started out as the worst of times ended up the best of times.”

That’s how Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist Art Buchwald described the final days of his life in a Mainland hospice. Shortly before his death in 2007, he wrote, “I’m 80 years old, I’ve had a good life, and I’m going out the way I want to.”

Many studies show that dying patients who receive physical, emotional, social and spiritual end-of-life support die with serenity and dignity. This is exactly the kind of support hospice care can provide. However, hospice care is often overlooked as patients and their families find it difficult to face the amount of time a patient may have left, or continue to explore curative treatment options.

Originally, hospice was a medieval name for a way station where travelers rested. Today, hospice care emphasizes palliative (soothing, calming, comforting) care that offers pain control and symptom management rather that curative treatment. Hospice treats the person rather than the disease and focuses on quality rather than length of life. It can be given in the patient’s own home, a nursing home, hospital, or at a residential hospice center.

Established in 1978, St. Francis Hospice is Hawai‘i’s first and largest program serving the terminally ill. Its roots go back to Sister Marianne Cope and six other Sisters of St. Francis who came to Hawai‘i in 1883 in response to a plea from King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapi‘olani to care for abandoned patients with leprosy. The healing ministry of the sisters continues today through the St. Francis Healthcare Systems (SFHS). “St. Francis Hospice is known for providing compassionate, quality care to terminally ill patients, making their last days as meaningful as possible,” says Sister Agnelle Ching, chief executive officer of SFHS.

The two St. Francis hospice facilities are the 12-bed Sister Maureen Keleher Center, which opened in Nu‘uanu in 1988, and the 24-bed Maurice J. Sullivan Family Hospice Center, which opened in ‘Ewa Beach in 1997. The facilities have recently undergone a $3.5 million facelift.

Professionals at the hospices – physicians, nurses, dietitians, counselors and chaplains – are experts at relieving pain and suffering. They work with trained volunteers and health care specialists to offer physical care and counseling as well as alternative therapies such as therapeutic massage, healing touch, music therapy, and a variety of holistic and herbal remedies.

Unfortunately, there are many myths about end-of-life issues, according to St. Francis Hospice Executive Director Joy Yadao. “Some [terminally ill] people think they have to choose between doing nothing and doing everything,” she says. “But we always honor the patient’s personal choices.”

The hospice patient can reminisce about their past and talk about the future for them and their family. “It’s painful and sad, but families experience amazing growth when they get through these life events together,” Yadao says. “Years later, they are grateful at how much they were able to help their loved one.”