BEING THERE – HOSPICE NURSES PROVIDE EXTRAORDINARY COMFORT AND CARE
by James Coburn – Writer/Photographer
The majority of Tamara Webb’s career has been devoted to caring for families and their terminally ill loved ones in hospice, said Webb, RN, clinical coordinator at Sooner Hospice in Oklahoma City.
“I choose hospice because I feel it is very rewarding, not only for me personally, but being there for families to give them that support at the end of life,” Webb said.
She has served patient centered care at Sooner for the past 11 months. She began her career as an LPN, graduating from Gordon Cooper Votech. Later she earned a Master of Science in Nursing.
“I feel like I’ve been able to provide a little bit of sunshine to someone else,” Webb said. “Some days can be hard, but at the end of the day I feel like I have helped someone.”
Webb works closely with Cheryl Medawattage, RN, director of business development, a hospice nurse for 20 years. The fundamental goal of Sooner Hospice is to make sure patients are as comfortable as possible, she said, by providing symptom management.
“It’s maintaining their dignity and elevating our standards of care,” she said. “We don’t just want to be what we’re known as. We want to be better.”
Becoming better means Sooner Hospice continues to grow educationally, spiritually and as a team. Every decision is based on the right thing to do for the patient, she said.
“I’ve always said that if I feel I didn’t make a difference at the end of the day it’s time to walk away,” she said.
Hospice nurses have opportunities to meet patients and families they love. Medawattage said it is a blessing to be part of their lives because some of them embrace her as their family.
“As far as Sooner, that’s what we aspire to do with integrity. You want to do everything from a compliance perspective,” Medawattage continued.
Service is rendered with compassion. The staff exceeds knowing that hospice care is something they embrace in life. Hospice has never been a job, she said.
“If you’re expecting a job, this is the wrong field. Hospice becomes who you are as a person,” she explained. “That’s who I am. I am a hospice nurse 24/7. It’s a ministry work. I take hospice extremely personally and therefore I am very humbled.”
Her role is diverse as director of business development. Medawattage still maintains a lot of patient contact, making her career worthwhile.
The nurses come in contact with a cross-section of life from every income bracket. They approach each patient with the same compassionate care and understanding.
“When we go in we have a nonjudgmental attitude,” Webb said. “We don’t know what walks of life they’ve come from or what they’re experiencing or how they deal with grief.”
The goal of Sooner Hospice is to enter the home, making sure that palliative, holistic needs will be met. The families work with Sooner to make sure the plan of care will be most beneficial for their loved ones, Webb added.
Many of the families and patients did not realize the depth of their strength. Webb admires this quality.
“They didn’t think they were going to make it through this time of their life, but the families a lot of times come together,” Webb said. “They become stronger.
Exemplary service is accomplished by compassionate coworkers willing to learn as team players. Webb said they may not be together at every moment of the day. But when they do come together, they recognize they each have a common goal.
“That’s to make sure we support one another and we’re doing the best job we can do for our patients,” Webb said.
The continuum of hospice care deals with physical, spiritual and emotional needs, Medawattage said. Home health aides are invaluable. So is the chaplain, social worker and bereavement coordinator as well as the volunteers and a volunteer coordinator.
“Then of course we have a medical director that oversees all the care that we provide,” Medawattage added. “It’s a very holistic approach to reaching out to meet the needs of these families.”
Medawattage is a big advocate of certification and training in order to be a better hospice nurse. Sooner Hospice began providing a certified hospice and palliative care class to prepare nurses to take their certification exams.
“There are not many certified nurses in the state of Oklahoma. The last time I checked, there was about 120 of them. From a pain management certification, I think there were 15 and we have over 300 hospices.”
Sooner Hospice has built a team with the heart and desire to make a difference.
“I’m a big advocate of certification with my pain management and gerontology certification. It just helps me be more effective with what I need to do,” she said.
Medawattage said nurses must take care of themselves, too. She has started playing billiards for one hour a day at home.
“My son was born when I went into hospice. So talking about hospice and death and dying and the challenges that come with it, they know that’s who I am,” Medawattage said.
“I took my daughter out to deliver meals for Christmas. She was just so inspired to be doing that,” she said.
Webb said she gets a lot of support from her family. She also does swing dance to alleviate stress.
“That’s one of the things I do with meditation and exercising,” Webb said.