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My mother recently died, and my family and I owe a debt of gratitude to Hospice of Chattanooga for their kindness and compassion in making her last days more peaceful and helping us get through the ordeal. Please inform your readers about hospice care. — Grateful Greta

Dear Greta: Thanks so much for your suggestion, as hospice services can be a godsend to both patients and their families. My Newcomers Club once hosted a presentation by Hospice of Chattanooga, and I was amazed at just how many services it provides.

When a person is diagnosed with terminal illness and the physician estimates that the patient has fewer than six months to live, hospice may be called in (usually to the home) to help provide respite from physical and emotional burdens. However, as "Greta" states, the person's family also benefits from these caregivers. While many locations offer this specialized care, some groups are obviously better suited than others; after all, we want only the very best for loved ones who deserve to spend their final days with peace, comfort and dignity. So what constitutes the best hospice care? I went online to www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hospicecare.html and found some reassuring suggestions.

First, a personal referral is the best way to go. Check with your doctor and clergyperson. Certainly, friends who have satisfactorily used a specific hospice service can point you to their group. One referral we don't think about normally is the state health department which lists licensed programs; however, usually the programs only must meet a minimum operating standard so be careful. Once you do find a couple of hospice groups that you think might work well, interview each agency. We conduct interviews for cleaning services, contractors, and the like and these individuals are far less important than folks who provide hospice care for someone we love.

Make a list and check it twice. Ask all the right questions (research, research, research) about the services. For instance, make sure their team assesses the patient's needs, including all medications, bathing issues, mobility, and the like. Be sure the organization provides nurses, home-health aides, social workers, clergy, mental health professionals, and anyone else who can make end-of-life issues easier to bear for both the patient and his or her family.

So far as Hospice of Chattanooga (HOC) is concerned, according to former marketing liaison Katie Welch, palliative care is also available for those persons who aren't necessarily dying but who suffer from a chronic long-term illness and need certain services to help make life less complicated. The latter may run the gamut from pain control to working with other agencies. News to me was how badly Hospice of Chattanooga (and probably many others) needs volunteers to help with a designated family's daily life. Thankful for any amount of donated time but at least two hours per week, HOC needs "partners" to read to children, grocery shop, pay bills, utilize pet therapy, and help with many other activities. Contact (423) 892-4289 or go online to www.hospiceofchattanooga.org.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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