Inspiring Stories

Methodist Hospice Team Helps Ease the End-of-Life Journey

A focus on choice and comfort

“We get one shot to make a bad situation as good as it can be, so the earlier we start and the better we get to know people, the more we can help,” said Eileen Heitman, BSN, RN, CHPN. “The illness is just a little piece of who this person is. I love getting to know my patients and hearing their stories.”

Eileen has been a hospice nurse for the past nine years with Methodist Home Health and Hospice. She began her second career as a nurse after leaving US West, formerly Northwestern Bell, a job she had been at for over 18 years.  “I started thinking about nursing when I had the first of my three kids at Methodist Hospital, and my nurse was so helpful and open with me,” said Eileen. “But I worried I wasn’t smart enough or good enough at math to be a nurse.”

Eileen surprised herself by completing the math refresher and chemistry courses she needed to qualify for admission to Nebraska Methodist College. She joined the Methodist Hospice team in 2008. 

Connecting with patients and families

Hospice care is designed to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the terminally ill and their families. The focus is on individual choice and comfort. Care comes to where the patient is, whether in a private home or apartment, homeless shelter, assisted living facility or hospice house.  Hospice care is available to patients of all ages and their families.

“Studies have shown that patients in a hospice program may live longer and have a better quality of life,” said Diane Randolph, director of Methodist Home Health and Hospice Services. “Hospice is also very much about hope. Hope often changes over time, becoming not so much hope for a cure but for a comfortable, dignified death surrounded by family.”

“Home hospice care is absolutely wonderful! It’s easier on the patient and easier on family. We have everything we need right here, and staff are willing to do all they can for us 24/7.”

Sandy Jernigan,
Wife of hospice patient

Returning home

Wally Jernigan, 73, is a Marine veteran and retired Omaha homicide detective with a razor-sharp wit, love of pranks and deep pride in the community and country he has served so well. He is a force of nature, famous for his outgoing personality and outrageously entertaining stories.
He is also one of Eileen’s home hospice patients. Wally’s terminal illness — multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow — has kept him bedridden since March 2016.

After his wife, Sandy, realized Wally was overmedicated and delusional causing him to become angry, distrustful and silent, she knew she was losing the Wally she knew and loved even before cancer could take him. Sandy transferred Wally to Hospice House.

“From the start, Eileen was so helpful and caring,” said Sandy. “When we got Wally off the extra medications, he started to become himself again. As I watched what the Hospice House nurses did, Eileen encouraged me to believe I could do many of those things for him.”

In June 2016, Wally returned home, where he wanted to be. With Eileen as his nurse, Wally has learned to seize each remaining day and to trust health care professionals again. “The measure of a hospice program is its people,” said Wally, “and Eileen is a good one.”

A team approach to health care

Eileen and the other Methodist Hospice nurse case managers work closely with members of a specially trained, interdisciplinary team of physicians, aides, social workers, chaplains, pharmacists, dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, bereavement counselors, and volunteers.

How does the Methodist Hospice team help ease the end-of-life journey? By asking what is wanted most, acting on the answer and truly connecting with the patients and families under their care.

For patients like Wally and his wife Sandy, hospice has not been an end, but a new beginning. “Home hospice care is absolutely wonderful!” said Sandy. “It’s easier on the patient and easier on the family. We have everything we need right here, and staff are willing to do all they can for us 24/7.”