SUN CITY CENTER – LifePath Hospice is widely known for its compassionate care of patients during their final stages of life. But not many know about a special program called “We Honor Veterans” that the nonprofit group adopted in 2010.
“We Honor Veterans” was started nationally by the United States Veteran’s Administration and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
“Its purpose is to help educate hospice staff and volunteers about how end-of-life issues can be different for veterans,” said Janet Ricklick, volunteer coordinator for the program, adding there are four levels of training involved. Of the more than 5,000 hospices in the U.S., about half are enrolled in the program and 135 have reached level four, she said. LifePath completed level four in March.
About 20 percent of LifePath Hospice patients are veterans, the majority of them from the World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras. Staff and volunteers are trained to address their clinical, psychological, social and spiritual issues.
It all depends on when and where they served, Ricklick said.
“For example, those who served in a combat situation may have never discussed their experiences with their families,” she said. “But at the end of their lives they may want to talk with a volunteer who’s a veteran and had a similar experience.
“They feel a sense of relief because it’s a veteran to veteran communication.”
Knowing a hospice patient’s military history can also help clinical staff.
“The ultimate goal is to help the veteran die a good death and to honor their military service one last time,” Ricklick said.
Aston Gardens resident Robert Engelhardt served in both the Army and Navy, first from 1933 to 1935 and then for a year in 1945. Currently under hospice care, the 99-year-old knows firsthand how LifePath’s “We Care for Veterans” program works.
Last year his family and members of his home hospice team celebrated his service to the country with a special pinning ceremony in his apartment. Chaplain Brian Pearson officiated and gave Engelhardt a framed certificate that read, “We pay special tribute to you for your military service to the United States of America and for advancing the universal hope of freedom and liberty for all.”
Engelhardt was deeply moved by the surprise ceremony.
“I cried. I was very emotional,” he said, adding he talked about his time in the service that day and shared some information his family had never known before. “It meant an awful lot to me. What a celebration it was.
LifePath Hospice has had a tangible presence in South Shore since 2001, when it opened an eight-bed hospice house near Freedom Plaza in Sun City Center. In 2006 it opened a larger 24-bed facility on Upper Creek Drive.
For additional information, visit www.chaptershealth.org or call (800) 355-8150.