Volunteer shines spotlight on compassionate hospice care
ROME — Whether he’s giving respite care to terminally ill patients and their families, or going to pick up materials to build a wheelchair ramp, Hospice & Palliative Care volunteer Frank DiBerardino III always has a project at-hand.
Recently DiBerardino was honored by Hospice & Palliative Care, Inc. in New Hartford, for his years of dedication and service to the organization, with the Hospice & Palliative Care Association of New York State’s (HPCANYS) Carol Selinske Volunteer of the Year award for his outstanding contribution of supporting hospice patients in the community.
In addition to his volunteer work, DiBerardino also has a passion for educating members of the community about all the services hospice provides to patients, as well as their caregivers and families.
“We get so many families who say they wished they called and took advantage of services sooner,” said DiBerardino. “We have to raise public awareness of what services can be offered when dealing with the illness of a loved one.”
Back in the 1980s when DiBerardino was working for the State Assembly in Albany, he recalled seeing a public service TV ad for what was known then as the St. Peter’s Hospice in his area. He felt compelled to volunteer with the organization, but had little spare time. Come 1992, and DiBerardino became director of the organization dedicated to commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Pledge of Allegiance, which also coincided with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to America.
But DiBerardino told St. Peter’s Hospice he’d be back, and so that promise was kept when he completed his 6-8 weeks of volunteer training in 1994.
“We’re not medical staff so when working with patients, we cannot give them any medications, but there are certain things we can help with,” DiBerardino explained.
He said no one is denied services for financial reasons or lack of insurance coverage because some patients and their families may not have the support system they need. Patients may also want to remain at home or need the services of a nursing home or an assisted-living type setting like what’s offered at Siegenthaler Center in New Hartford or Abraham House in Rome.
“We try to accommodate what kind of care the patients wants,” DiBerardino said.
The long-time volunteer explained that a team is assembled around a patient to accommodate their wants and needs. The team leader may be a nurse who can administer medications, social worker or physical therapist, and if desired, families may request assistance from religious advisors, counselors or volunteers.
The team “will take charge of getting medications and supplies, and make visits so the family doesn’t have to deal with the doctor, the pharmacy, etc.,” DiBerardino said. “The patient can be right at home, and the team can help in that care program.”
Patients enrolled in hospice care are usually those who have been given a prognosis of 6 months or less, and are determined medically whether they be placed on a path they can stay on independently or with more medical assistance. Care time may be extended if a person begins to recover. Hospice & Palliative Care services are evolving, however, to also serve those who may need detailed care, but have not been diagnosed as terminal.
“Some patients I’ve been assigned to for 2 1/2 years, others 6 months or 10 months to a year,” said DiBerardino. “Hospice & Palliative Care will do a periodic assessment. Sometimes a patient will get better, but often they come back at a certain point.”
Hospice & Palliative Care also offers Advanced Illness Management, which is a service for patients who may need a supportive device or help from someone else to leave their home because of illness or injury. Or the patient may have a condition that makes leaving their home medically inadvisable. A patient and family needs to qualify for long-term AIM services, DiBerardino said.
“A plan” for long-term care “is put in place with a dedicated team from Hospice whether they’re receiving care at home, or in a facility” like Siegenthaler Center or Abraham House, DiBerardino said. “We want to make the patient feel in their weeks or months as comfortable as possible, and help them keep on living.”
He said, “Hospice volunteers also do wonderful things to provide respite for caregivers, like pick up prescriptions, or identify needs in a patient’s home, as long as it’s something Hospice and the family permits us to do.”
DiBerardino recalled that before moving back home to Rome and he was volunteering for Hospice & Palliative Care in Albany County, an elderly woman caring for her sick husband had requested DiBerardino take them on a car ride to Saratoga and through Saratoga Spa State Park.
“They asked that I drive them through the park and some neighborhoods” where they were from, DiBerardino remembered. “They would tell each other things like, ‘Wow, that house or building is still there after all these years or look at that new business that wasn’t there before...’ We ended up spending the whole afternoon there.”
The volunteer also remembered bringing a quadriplegic young man his favorite fast food, and the patient would direct the kitchen staff at his facility how to puree and prepare it for him.
“For example, I would bring pizza and chicken wings for him, and he’d tell the kitchen staff, ‘OK, this is the way I want it, or don’t put too much pepper in,’” said DiBerardino. “Then when I was on a trip to Italy, I brought him back a chef’s hat, and he would wear it as he directed the kitchen staff when they prepared his food. It made him feel like the chef in charge of the kitchen.”
An important aspect of hospice care is also making sure that family members and caregivers are taking care of themselves, DiBerardino said. Whether they’re a spouse, parent, adult children, other family members or friends, caregivers are often suffering, over-worked and stressed, he said.
Hospice & Palliative Care also offers bereavement follow-up programs for adults and children dealing with grief after the loss of a loved one. Brave Hearts is a group especially geared toward children.
“Children don’t manifest grief as adults do, so being able to provide bereavement services specifically for kids is just as important,” DiBerardino said.
And when it comes to Hospice’s palliative care, “It’s not just some place that patients are sent to be alone,” he said. “It’s very welcoming and comfortable. Families can even be there with the patient, and often volunteers will prepare hot meals and dessert for them. We can even have them sleep in the same room with the patient if they’re traveling a distance away. We try to make it as comfortable as possible for the whole family.”
For more information about Hospice & Palliative Care services or how to volunteer, go to www.hospicecareinc.org or call 315-735-6484.
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