PROGRESS 2024: Chattahoochee Hospice: Celebrating 40 years of compassionate care

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, March 2, 2024

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“It can’t be a job,” said Jasmine Perkins, hospice aide at Chattahoochee Hospice. “It has to be a passion.” 

This is the embodiment of how the Valley-based nonprofit organization has run its operation for the past 40 years. 

During the organization’s recent anniversary celebration, Administrator Adrian Holloway honored all the multifaceted staff that work together to provide quality care. 

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“It is truly an interdisciplinary team approach,” Holloway said. “We all work together to make it happen.”

There’s more to hospice care than meets the eye. The organization is supported by a full team of skilled professionals. Kelly Townley, one of Chattahoochee Hospice’s social workers, is in charge of transferring patients to other facilities, doing home checks for patients, and ensuring they have their needs met. 

Tammie Ware and Jasmine Perkins are hospice aides who spend a lot of time in the patients’ houses. They help patients bathe and take care of their hygienic needs. 

“I try to make them smile. Like I paint my patient’s nails. One patient I have — she wanted me to draw eyebrows. I do that,” Perkins said. “Whatever makes you smile, you know?”

Chattahoochee Hospice’s chaplain, Michael Stiggers, does more than just provide spiritual support. Stiggers has built ramps, cooked meals, baked pies and even made small repairs around the house for many patients. The chaplain has found that even something as simple as changing a lightbulb can be a ministry to a patient. 

“I’m a carpenter, I’m a cook, a preacher. So where else can I go? Where can I go where I can incorporate all of those gifts?” Stiggers asked. “Here, to Chattahoochee Hospice.”

Because Chattahoochee Hospice is a not-for-profit organization, they can provide indigent care. Holloway said they take pride in meeting patients where they are no matter the circumstances. 

“I’ve cared for patients in a camper in the woods with no running water where we took jugs of water to bathe them,” Holloway said. “It doesn’t matter. We’re going to meet you where you are and going to meet your needs.”

“We can say, ‘When we step in the door, this is going to be quite challenging,’” Holloway said. “And we probably could think of thousands of reasons why not to. But that patient is the one reason for us to do it every single time — no matter what it takes.”

Townley said that a lot of people have a misconception that hospice only gets involved when people are imminently dying. On the contrary, patients can get into hospice much sooner in the disease progression. 

According to Medicare guidelines, Holloway said, if the trajectory of their disease process continues, the patient will pass away within six months. However, in her 16 years at Chattahoochee Hospice, she’s actually seen many patients stay on service for a year and a half.

“Generally, people [who] come to hospice and die very quickly have waited too long,” Holloway said. “And so they don’t get the full benefit of what hospice looks like.”

Many in the community also don’t realize that the grief and bereavement services are free to the whole community, not just patients and families at Chattahoochee Hospice.

A typical day in the hospice field

Townley started in long-term care in nursing homes but eventually got certified as a social worker.

“I just fell in love with my job here. I love the nursing home. There will always be a part of that that has my heart,” Townley said. “The good thing with this job is, you know, we all go out into patient homes, but we also go into nursing homes. And so I still get that experience too.”

Her day starts with getting paperwork done. Then, she makes her rounds to visit patients in their homes. She checks on the living situation, makes sure that any questions the patient or caregiver has are answered and reports any needs to the hospice nurse and hospice aide. 

“A lot of my visit may be spent with the caregiver,” Townley said. “Because oftentimes it’s one person who’s taking on the bulk of the caregiving role, and, you know, they’re tired.”

Ware agreed, saying her passion comes from helping not only her patients but also their caregivers. Ware has worked at Chattahoochee Hospice for 23 years. Once she gets to the house, she can give the caregiver a break. 

She and Perkins give baths, help with medicine and handle other practical needs of the house. More than that, though, they provide comfort and support to the patients. Ware mentioned a patient who always asks her if she’s hungry during the visit. Even though she assures the patient she’s fine, she always receives a snack before she leaves. 

“But that was her love language. She made sure I had something to eat every time I went there,” Ware said.  

Many people have an idea of what a visit from the hospice chaplain will look like, but Stiggers said he doesn’t try to go into the conversation with any parameters. He tends to find out a patient’s spiritual needs simply through good conversation. 

“If there’s one thing that I do, it’s give them presence, which is what Jesus gives us,” Stiggers said. “… Just being with them, talking about what they want to talk about. Meeting them where they are. That makes all the difference in the world.”

Townley said the key to dealing with some of the stress of the job is to find that work-life balance. 

“We are human, and I think everyone in this building is very capable of doing this job, but there are days that are hard and you know, sometimes you just need to be able to talk about it,” she said. 

Holloway added that most of the hospice staff develop strong familial bonds with their patients, and they grieve at the losses too.

Though working with patients who are transitioning can be challenging and even heartbreaking at times, Ware said it is one of the most rewarding experiences. She said her favorite part is when she gives a bath to a patient who has been up all night in pain, and they’re so relaxed that they’re finally able to fall asleep.

“That’s what I love about the job,” Ware said. “My hands through the grace of God make things better for that person for a while. So that caregivers can go home and take a breath because they’ve been up all night. I love it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

“I tell people all the time it’s the most rewarding nursing work I’ve ever done in my life. You go to nursing school because you want to help people,” Holloway said. “… For me, it was kind of like that holistic care and being able to touch every part of a patient and family. And you really just can’t do that in any other setting.”

Perkins said a lot of patients become like family, especially when their own family lives far away or can’t visit often. Perkins always knew she wanted to work in the medical field because she loves helping others. After 11 years working for Chattahoochee Hospice, one of the most common misconceptions she gets from the patients and caregivers themselves is that they are a nuisance. 

“They think that they’re bugging you, and I always say ‘I’m here for you, and you’re not here for me,’” Perkins said. “But really they do become like they’re there for you too.”