A touch of compassion &mdash Two new hospice programs expand patient care

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For all the amazing machines, medications and operations that can extend one’s lifetime, sometimes a dying person needs nothing so much as a sympathetic ear and a warm hand to grasp.

On the other hand, sometimes you really need a trained physician or nurse.

The Bay Area’s two Jewish hospice programs are aiming to provide suffering patients with both kinds of care more effectively than ever.

The Bay Area Jewish Healing Center has established a program in coordination with Zen Hospice to provide “Jewishly trained” volunteers to aid and comfort hospice patients throughout the region. Meanwhile, the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services obtained a state license, authorizing it to send medical professionals to hospice patients’ homes and hospitals.

Anita Friedman, the JFCS’ executive director, said her organization treats dozens of hospice patients every month, and, thanks to a state license, is now eligible to provide “more intensive medical services” and be reimbursed for them as well.

“Our physicians can provide direct pain management and medical care. The reason we got the license is we see a large expansion in the number of people who need this help.”

She also noted that “services have expanded to seniors and the disabled. I think this is a reflection of demographics. And I think many people are preferring to die in their own homes and want an integrated set of services, including attention to their mind, body and spirit.”

Rabbi Eric Weiss, the healing center’s executive director, said he hopes within the next couple of months to graduate his “first cadre” of hospice volunteers who have been trained in a Jewish approach to end-of-life issues.

“A volunteer can do some things staff really can’t do: Simply sit and be for many hours with an individual who needs somebody, who doesn’t want to be alone,” said Rabbi Sheldon Marder, the rabbi for the Jewish Home in San Francisco.

A grant is pending regarding a possible collaboration between the healing center and Jewish Home to train end-of-life care volunteers exclusively for the senior living facility.

Weiss declined to state the grant’s potential source and dollar amount so as not to “inadvertently create undue influence on the granting agency in their decision-making process.”

Both the healing center and JFCS have offered varying forms of hospice care to Bay Area Jews for more than a decade. And both are in the midst of expansions.

The JFCS received state licensure in November, which enables it to send physicians to assist dying patients, in addition to the caretakers, spiritual counselors and economic advisers it had already been utilizing.

Friedman differentiated the JFCS’ hospice services from those of the healing center, which, she said, just does “spiritual stuff … they don’t have somebody to feed [patients], take them to the bathroom, give them injections, work with the family.”

Hospice, she said, “means providing all services — making the families comfortable, helping with bathing, cooking, cleaning and also helping with the spiritual side of things. We’re not just a spiritual counseling program. It’s a really big difference.”

Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, the chairman of the healing center’s hospice task force, replied that there is no competition between the two Jewish organizations.

“This isn’t a contest of who can throw the ball farther,” he said. “We don’t want to re-invent the wheel or duplicate services other people are offering.”

In addition to the volunteer hospice program, the healing center is working to establish a “volunteer bank” in which members of the community offer up their services to aid Jews in the last few months of their lives.

The center is looking for “accountants, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists and even carpenters or construction people. People [facing death] have a lot of decisions to make, and they don’t always make them with the clearest mind or receive the most competent advice, so we’re trying to connect the two,” said Berenbaum. “It’s a finite number of hours and a real service. People want to help.”

Information on the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center‘s hospice program or volunteer bank: (415) 750-4198. Information on the JFCS‘ hospice and palliative care program: (415) 449-3707.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.