Thursday, June 28, 2007

Samira Beckwith: defining the quality of life

Originally published in the Florida Weekly

Death and dying. While most people would rather change the subject, this is the reality that Samira Beckwith faces every day. As the president and CEO of Hope Hospice and Community Services, Beckwith explains that their mission is to help people fulfill their life's journey and decide how they will spend time in the last chapter of their lives.

Depressing? Maybe to some people, but Beckwith explains that depression would indicate there is nothing that can be done to help. And while she and her staff are filled with sadness at each passing, Beckwith says they remain inspired by creating ways to help each person, their families and the community.

"I love what we do," says Beckwith. "It's really important that we make a difference for each person and their families."

"Plus, we have great volunteers who look at what we can do," continues Beckwith. We can give tender, loving, supportive care. We can make each person's days more worthwhile with art classes, music therapy, special birthday parties. Recently, we had an experience where one woman was not going to live to see her granddaughter's wedding. So they changed the date and we had the wedding at her bedside - it was a very beautiful and moving experience. We think of what we can do to improve the quality of those final days."

Influenced by her own experiences, Beckwith has an unusual insight into people who are not expected to survive. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at the young age of 24, she spent hours in hospital waiting rooms with other patients left in the dark about their procedures and other aspects of their treatments. She wondered why they were all being treated like anonymous numbered patients, instead of like people, and thought about how she might help. As ill as she was herself, this was the turning point when she brought her personal and professional lives together -- an experience that has kept her fueled all these years.

Graduating from Ohio State University with a Master's of Social Work, Beckwith worked in a hospice house in North Dakota for 10 years before interviewing in Fort Myers in 1991. Under her leadership, Hope Hospice now serves more than 1,400 people each day and she has led the development of three facilities: Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs. Past president of the Florida Hospices and Palliative Care Organization, Beckwith now serves on the organization's executive committee. She has also been the recipient of many regional and national awards, including being named one of Eckerd's Top 100 Women in the U.S. (2000).

Beckwith's focus on care extends beyond the individual and his or her family to the community at large. She explains how Hospice provides bereavement counseling to employers and how they reach out to clergy to be available to their congregations.

"How a person spends the final chapter of life depends on how both family and business associates will cope. Our grief counselors meet with groups at work or with school counselors if a child is involved - we are even called to crime scenes when law enforcement needs extra help. We touch people's lives in many different ways."

Beckwith credits wonderful volunteers and supportive board members with their ability to help so many in such a caring way and their flexibility as the role of Hospice changes in our society.

"We want to stay ahead of the needs and understand what's coming," says Beckwith. "This subject used to be very hush-hush, and there is still a lot of discomfort in expressing what people want, but baby boomers want to have a say in their last days - they want to have a sense of control."

This has resulted in developing different ways to deliver care, and listening to each person to determine their needs. With families so spread out, fewer people want to be home alone or to be a burden to their loved ones in their last days.

"I am passionate about our work, helping people define how they will spend their time," concludes Beckwith. "I am lucky to have this opportunity. The lesson I have learned? We often can't choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hope Connections Reopens Center

Originally published in the Caloosa Belle

Hope Connections is settling into the L.J. Nobles Center, providing services for senior citizens.

Hope Connections Program Manager Rosemarie Slowly said she wants clients to feel comfortable at the center, located on Cowboy Way, and assured clients that they will be directed on the right path. Ms. Slowly is brand new at the position, although she has been working in health care management for 10 years.

She feels right at home, saying she specifically looked for a hospice position because of their values. They are special caring people, she noted, who put patients and their families first.

Her job is to make sure that the patients’ needs are met as well as all the guidelines, policies/procedures and funding requirements. Also at the Nobles Center you will find Kay Owens, case manager for Hope Connections Hendry County, and Diane Thorpe, site manager.

Vice President Hope Life Care Mary Curtis said the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) funds two facilities in Hendry (one in LaBelle on Cowboy Way and one in Clewiston (1200 W.C. Owens Ave.) and two in Glades (101 Florida Ave.) and the Buckhead Ridge (congregate meals only).

Hope Connections provides case management at its Moore Haven, LaBelle and Clewiston offices.

Hope also offers services at the LaBelle and Clewiston facilities, neatly synchronizing programs for the elderly. Through Hope Connections centers, senior citizens can take advantage of congregate meals Monday through Friday. Suggested donation is $1 donation for the meal, although it is strictly up to the individual.

The center also offers case management, home delivered meals, C.N.A. aides and homemaker services. Depending on the client’s financial circumstances, payment can be by Medicaid or co-pay.

Hope Connections currently has a combined staff of 20 in Hendry and Glades.

Hope Hospice has a 26-year history in Hendry/Glades; now AAA asked Hope Connections to take over elder services in this area.In March of this year, the organization opened its first facility in Hendry County n the “yellow house” at the corner of Clay St. and SR 80 where congregate meals were served.

The organization is also offering Hope Life Care - designed to help older, more frail people stay at home as long as possible. At this time Hope Connections has 254 clients in Hendry-Glades. Hope Life Care serves 250 (total in all counties); five in Hendry County at this time.

Outside groups, including the Center for Independent Living and Goodwill also have offices at the Nobles Center.

Because life enrichment is very important for senior citizens, look for more activities for clients. Volunteers are needed to conduct sessions in arts and crafts and exercise and so on - any form of group entertainment will be considered. Volunteers go through a 15 hour training course and can work with clients or perform other necessary functions.

The folks at Hope Connections want you to think of the Nobles Senior Center as senior center not just a congregate site.

For more information about Hope Connections’ programs, facilities or volunteer opportunities, call 800-835-1673.