Being a hospice nurse is not easy, says Regina Burkhead, RN, Good Shepherd Hospice. But love abounds to make life better.

by James Coburn, Staff Writer

Regina Burkhead’s calm and collected manner, blended with gentility and Grace serves her well as a registered nurse working in admissions for Good Shepherd Hospice, located in Oklahoma City.
Burkhead has been a nurse for 10 years but did not always work with hospice care. A graduate of Redlands Community College in El Reno, Burkhead has worked in hospital med/surg as well as home health. Now she has been with hospice for one year.
“The one-on-one patient care is one of the main things,” she said of what keeps her motivated with hospice care. “I’ve always liked the home health type jobs. I became interested in hospice after my mother was on hospice and passed away.”
She came to Good Shepherd a year ago where she has enjoyed comforting people with endless compassion as they make their final transition in life.
Hospice, she said, is an individualized care plan at the end of life to ensure the patient has their needs met with comfort through palliative care, she said. Their families are a part of the compassionate care as well.
“Even in facilities we provide a lot of support for the caregivers,” Burkhead said.
The hospice patients and family members that she has known have different backgrounds, but each one faces difficult decisions. So Good Shepherd Hospice provides hope and guidance to help them make choices.
Not every nurse is a hospice nurse or would be. Hospice nursing is a specialty field. And all nursing fields are special.
“I think the level of compassion and caring is a lot more intense and higher with hospice than it is with the other fields,” Burkhead explained. “And I guess there’s a lot of things the nurse faces, too, in those situations. We lose the patients, too.”
Hospice nurses become attached to their patients. They learn about their patients’ life histories and where they are at in life.
When a hospice patient dies, nurses also console one another at times. The chaplains and the social workers with the company provide support for the nurses as well.
Families, she said, are dedicated to follow the course of their loved one’s wishes after a death, and Burkhead admires them for it, she said.
“To be a part of that end of life care is tough for them but at the same time they usually step up,” she said.
For many families, placing a loved one under hospice care is a sudden experience. They may have not anticipated their loved one was so sick, or a terminal disease progressed quickly.
The range of hospice care is holistic involving a chaplain, and social workers who offer support. They will help facilitate resources in the community that the family might need at home.
Sometimes clothing and food is arranged for family member who are without sustenance. Home health aides assist with bathing needs and personal care. Case manager will manage care after the admission’s nurse assigns a new patient.
“Then we have a medical director. We have several who can sign for medical needs,” she said. “We have a bereavement coordinator and what she does is provide counseling support groups and literature for the families. When there are small children in the home we have books and things provided for them to kind of help.”
Volunteers are available to sit with patients and read to them upon request.
“We have some good volunteers that have been here for years,” she said. “But I think there’s usually a good need for more volunteers, too.”
Good Shepherd often strives to see that the patients’ last wishes are met even if it is as simple as wanting a donut. Burkhead recalls a patient who was passing quickly. She once had a particular person care for her. And her wish was to have that caregiver care for her again.
“And we knew they probably weren’t going to make it more than 24 hours. So we worked hard and notified the correct people, and that person actually got to care for the patient,” Burkhead said. “And the patient acknowledged that she knew that person was there.”
There have been patients who just wanted a coke. A Diet Coke made one of Burkhead’s patients happy.
“She said I’ve been without it for so long for medical reasons and I just want a Diet Coke,” Burkhead said.
Another woman wanted a candy bar. Burkhead fed her small bites.
“She said, ‘That’s so good.’ No wonder little kids want so much of it,” Burkhead said.

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