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Agencies work together on end-of-life care issues

MIDDLEBURY — It has indeed been a fruitful winter for the development of services for terminally ill patients and their families.
First, in January, Porter Medical Center officials announced that Dr. Diana Barnard was joining the fold to lead the hospital’s palliative care programming.
Last week, representatives from Addison Respite Care Home Ltd., known as ARCH, announced that an anonymous donor will be underwriting the costs — on a one-year trial basis — for a new, part-time worker to coordinate palliative care programming with Porter, Hospice Volunteer Services (HVS), and Addison County Home Health & Hospice. Laurie Borden, an HVS program assistant, will serve in that capacity.
Borden’s new duties will include making regular visits to the combined total of five rooms on the Porter Medical Center campus that are reserved for end-of-life patients. There are three ARCH rooms at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, and Porter Hospital a few years ago launched “The Estuary” suite. Borden will be available to address any patient, family and/or staff issues related to those rooms.
ARCH board President Daphne Jensen, by default, had been doing a lot of chores related to the five Porter rooms, Borden noted.
“We started thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a staff person to do all this?’” Borden recalled.
As a lean nonprofit, ARCH didn’t have the resources to hire such a staff person.
Fortunately, an anonymous Addison County resident stepped up to fund the new position for one year, after which ARCH officials will determine whether the post should be continued — and if so, how it could be subsidized in the long-term.
During a recent interview with the Independent, Borden also announced:
•  The Vermont Community Foundation has provided a $2,500 grant to allow ARCH, Addison County Home Health & Hospice and HVS to do some strategic planning. Borden explained all three organizations do a good job individually in helping dying patients and their loved ones, but a strategic plan would help them adopt some common goals and avoid duplicating services.
“We interface in so many ways,” Borden said. “What would it look like if we somehow collaborated or partnered and did something that made things more efficient?”
The grant will pay for a facilitator to help the three nonprofits envision “how we can make the end-of-life care provided by our community even better,” Borden said. “You’ve got these three organizations that are distinct that do specific tasks, but when you get toward this end-of-life time, there is so much overlap. We do a great job, but a lot more could be done.”
•  A scheduled March 21 local screening, and follow-up discussion, of the PBS Frontline documentary “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande. The documentary is based on Gawande’s best selling book of the same name. It explores the hopes of patients and families facing terminal illness and their relationships with the physicians who treat them. The event is slated for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society building off Charles Avenue in Middlebury.
The underlying goal of the film screening, according to Borden, is to stimulate more conversation in the community about planning for the inevitable — and to allow people to die on their own terms. For example, Borden said people should pick their own “health care agent” to make sure their end-of-life care is carried out according to their wishes.
“The only way that people are really going to die the way they want to or even live with a life-threatening illness is if they know what their options are, ” Borden said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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