Carrie Blumenthal, RN, serves as the assistant director of hospice nursing for Carter Healthcare.

story and photo by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
Carrie Blumenthal, RN, is closing in on three years with Carter Healthcare. And every day the assistant director of hospice nursing is humbled by the amazing opportunities her nurses are given by families across Oklahoma.
“Hospice is such an intimate service because you are so involved with the families. You’re in someone’s home,” Blumenthal said. “You’re a complete stranger the day you start. When you finish, you’re family.”
The bottom line in hospice care is to ensure the pain of each and every patient is managed during end-of-life care.
It’s Blumenthal’s job to make sure that each one of her nurses meets that standard daily.
But the job is so much more than that.
“It goes along with our mission statement of making people’s lives better,” Blumenthal said. “Hospice is the only aspect of a person’s health care where they get to make all the decisions. We get to facilitate that for them.”
Blumenthal has been a nurse for 17 years after graduating from Oklahoma State University.
She spent her first 10 years in trauma and has cycled through cardiac stepdown, ICU, post-op and even a stint in management.
With no home health experience she went directly into hospice care.
Looking back, not even a decade of trauma could prepare her for what she was stepping into.
“You learn it once you get out in the field and you learn it every day,” she said. “It’s dynamic because every family and every patient is different. A disease process has a way it normally goes but that doesn’t mean it’s going to affect every patient the same way.”
It was a few months before then that Karen Stowers, RN, accepted the role of Carter’s director of nursing.
She quickly saw something in Blumenthal.
“And she has climbed quickly,” Stowers said. “If you ask me she is my right and left hand in hospice. She’s my hospice guru.”
And what does a guru do?
“Hospice is a team approach. It is actually a real team approach because it takes more than one person,” Blumenthal said. “We have our social workers, our chaplains and a fabulous team of nurses who take care of their business every day.”
And that business is bringing dignity to someone’s last days.
“You have to pull every ounce of nursing knowledge that you have ever learned, had and experienced into taking care of one person at home, because most hospice care takes place at home,” Blumenthal said.
After a seemingly endless stream of bad news patients and their families often find themselves staring face-to-face with hospice care for the first time.
It can be both liberating and terrifying at the same time.
“Especially the older population because they are so used to having their care dictated for them. They do everything the physician says without question,” Blumenthal said. “So when we break it down and ask the patient what they want … they have to think about that. No one wants to die but we try to steer them more towards thinking of what are their goals.”
Blumenthal’s nurses give patients that freedom to choose. Do they want to be pain-free? Do they want to be able to go to the park with their family?
And there’s a large team at Carter helping those patients navigate their course but nationwide people are still finding hospice for the first time.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, despite the clear advantages in quality of life for terminally ill patients, and the cost benefits associated with palliative and hospice care, the decision to utilize hospice is made by only an estimated fraction of the patients who stand to benefit.
Only approximately 20%–25% of people who die in the US utilize hospice services with the median utilization of hospice standing at only 22 days while over one-third of hospice patients receive fewer than 8 days of services
Some 10 percent of hospice patients are enrolled in the last 24 hours of their life.
Education is needed for people to seek out hospice earlier.
For Blumenthal, her education in hospice has been a life-altering experience.
“It makes you acutely aware of life and what’s important,” she said. “You gain satisfaction knowing that the patient got what they needed. It’s a selfless role in nursing. Even though as a nurse you want them to get better sometimes better isn’t better.
“You’re successful if you’ve met the goals the patient has set for themselves.”
And that can be a very humbling experience.

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