Rita Hagen is the executive director of Hospice Alliance, 1022 Prairie Ridge Blvd.

Hospice Alliance: Forty years of end-of-life comfort care

Center focuses on pain management rather than aggressive treatments

By Daniel GaitanKENOSHA.COM

Gaitan is a proud Kenosha native who has covered his local community for much of his professional career. The DePaul University graduate served previously as an award-winning writer for the Kenosha News.

PLEASANT PRAIRIE — One local nonprofit is working to dispel negative myths and stereotypes surrounding hospice care. 

Hospice Alliance, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, provides comfort care for terminally ill patients nearing the end of life. 

Such care focuses on pain management rather than aggressive treatments — usually for patients with six months or less to live. Hospice is most often used when curative or aggressive medical treatments are no longer effective.

“Hospice is a blessing,” said Rita Hagen, executive director of the center at 1022 Prairie Ridge Blvd. “It’s a philosophy of care. It’s about talking to people and finding out what their goals and wishes are for the end of life.”

Hospice Alliance provides care at patient homes, assisted living centers and their on-site Hospice House. The Medicare hospice benefit was established in 1982 to help patients pay for care.

“It’s a team approach,” Hagen added. Patients often have a case manager, a CNA for help and even a chaplain. 

“People think hospice is about getting people closer to death sooner. We don’t do that. We don’t hasten death. Some studies have shown people on hospice live two weeks longer. We support the family and the patient. We do so many things,” she said. 

Hagen encourages all adults to complete an advance health care directive to ensure their future care wishes are followed. An advance directive may take the form of a living will, power of attorney or the Respecting Choices program.

She also wants conversations surrounding the end of life to be much more common. 

“Some patients don’t want to be hospitalized and just kept comfortable, and I think some of their loved ones are afraid of that if they aren’t settled in their lives,” she said.

Hospice Alliance works to ensure each patient receives the care they need and desire.

“We have an aromatherapist here, we have a music therapist,” she said. “We make the transition easier. … It’s a whole process. It’s a beautiful process.”

“People think hospice is about getting people closer to death sooner. We don’t do that. We don’t hasten death.”

– Rita Hagen, Hospice Alliance executive director

Hagen said some people incorrectly believe hospices only provide heavy doses of morphine to sedate patients. 

“People hear morphine and they think that’s what’s going to kill me. We use morphine to help people with shortness of breath in very small amounts. There’s so many great things that are done with morphine but you only get morphine as prescribed,” she added. 

Hagen said patients nearing death should receive whatever comforts they desire at such difficult times. Some patients want a glass of wine or cigar. Some crave a full-sugar Coke or a bite of a high-calorie cheeseburger. She works to safely accommodate their requests whenever possible.

“Isn’t that what you should be able to do?” she added.