— by Debra Sparks, Orcas Issues reporter —
A recent study by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, stated that “more than 44% of Americans with less than 6 months to live choose Hospice care, and 97% of those people choose home hospice care with the focus on comfort and quality of life, rather than a cure for dying patients.”
In the San Juan Islands there are still many people who don’t know what hospice care is, how to access it and who to call, especially since La Hari, a home on Orcas Island (built and set up for hospice care) closed. That has changed over the past year through Hospice Northwest deciding to expand direct services from Mt. Vernon to Orcas Island and Lopez.
For a year now, Debra O’Conner has lived on Orcas Island and serves Orcas and Lopez islands as the visiting hospice nurse. She works closely with patients at home, doctors, and caregivers. She assists in providing education to relatives or friends, those that are new to caregiving, and assisting those at the end of their lives in understanding their care needs and prescribed medications, treatments and, most importantly, allowing patients the opportunity to hope for “good days” and spending quality time with loved ones.
O’Conner is an energetic and uplifting person. A nurse since 1974, her life has been spent in caring for people in many situations that call for nursing, and the warmth she brings to her job is a way of helping people know they are very much a part of a community. O’Conner was a midwife for 30 years and grew up enjoying tending babies in Korean villages where she lived with her missionary family. She speaks fluent Korean and after her teen years and nursing school in America, she returned to Korea and worked as a nurse. With her daughter, O’Conner moved to Seattle, practiced midwifery, and worked for Providence Hospice in Seattle before her job at Hospice of the Northwest. Then she applied for and got the job as hospice nurse on Orcas Island and Lopez for Hospice of the Northwest.
O’Conner is a tremendous source of information. She also works as a health advocate (a researcher) and can suggest care, information about medications, and where to access medical needs. She is good listener, “sometimes that’s a big part of what it takes,” and has a good sense of humor which is part of her friendliness. Mostly, she is patient and committed to her job and community building.
O’Conner says, “Hospice of the Northwest is easy to enroll in.” Anyone can refer a person in need to Hospice care. “Someone might get a life limiting or terminal diagnosis, but not feel ready for hospice services, however may find peace of mind or comfort knowing about (of) these services for when they are needed. “
O’Conner can visit the home and assess the referral. It just takes a phone call 360-814-5550 or email: www.hospicenw.org.