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Published on January 30, 2020

Virtual Hospice Purple Butterfly EmblemVirtual Hospice Partnership

In early December, Edna Wilson’s family faced one of life’s most heart wrenching and challenging decisions: how to provide the most compassionate and supportive end-of-life care for a family member.

At the time that Edna and her family were grappling with this decision, their loved one was a patient at UNC Rockingham Health Care. With insurance no longer covering a hospital stay, and no beds available at the hospice home operated by Hospice of Rockingham County, Edna and her family might have been deciding between 24-hour a day care at home or admission to a skilled nursing center.

Instead, they were able to take advantage of Virtual Hospice, a new partnership program between UNC Rockingham Health Care and Hospice of Rockingham County. 

It fills the gap in care when going to the Hospice Home isn’t an immediate option. Virtual Hospice allows end-of-life patients at UNC Rockingham Health Care to be readmitted as Hospice patients without ever leaving their hospital room. A purple butterfly emblem on the patient’s door signifies their Hospice status.

When it has been determined that treatment and healing options are no longer effective, patients can then receive palliative care from staff at Hospice of Rockingham County while remaining in the hospital where most of their 24-hour comfort care is provided by hospital staff.

Those in Virtual Hospice are transferred to the Hospice Home once a bed becomes available.

This community partnership provides support to families when they need it most, explains JoAnn Smith, UNC Rockingham Health Care’s Chief Nursing Officer. “Hospice care includes physical, emotional, and spiritual support and helps to bridge this gap for the patient and family,” she says. 

That is exactly what it did for Edna and her family.

“Virtual Hospice was really the perfect place for my family member,” says Edna. “Even though we were based in the hospital, it was very quiet and peaceful. We were close to home, making it convenient for other family members to visit. We were among people we trusted, including the hospice staff, who spent time with us and let us know what to expect,” she adds.

“This partnership between Hospice of Rockingham County and UNC Rockingham Health Care offers families support sooner rather than later,” says Lynn Flanagan, President & CEO of Hospice of Rockingham County. “It is truly holistic care as our two teams work together to manage the patient’s symptoms, provide extra support for the family and ease the transition to the Hospice Home.”

By teaming up, we hope to make this very difficult time easier,” says JoAnn.

The first Virtual Hospice patient was admitted just four days after the program went live on December 1, 2019. To date, Virtual Hospice has allowed Hospice of Rockingham County and UNC Rockingham to care for more than a dozen patients.

Edna, a nurse with 27 years of experience, knows how uncomfortable topics like end-of-life care can be.

 “There are some common misconceptions, but an important thing to remember is that hospice isn’t always about death,” she says.  “It’s about living with peace of mind and letting people enjoy their loved ones for as long as they can. Virtual Hospice did just that for my family.”

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