Though it only began on Oct. 1, half a dozen Jewish patients in the last stages of terminal illness already have benefited from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Jewish Community Hospice Program.
“For many years, we’ve provided a full range of medical and related services in our traditional hospice program,” said Ann Walter, executive director for continuing care. “Now, our hospice staff includes members of the Jewish community, helping to ensure that Jewish traditions and laws will be upheld and respected, both at home and in patient care.”
The Jewish Community Hospice team – a physician, a registered nurse, a medical social worker, a hospice aide, a trained volunteer, and a Jewish chaplain – work with the hospital’s Jewish community liaison, Rachel Dube.
The goal of hospice care is to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life for people whose life expectancy is six months or less. Dube explained that observant Jews require rabbinic guidance on end-of-life issues such as cessation of feeding and hydration, levels of pain medication, and the definition of death, among other critical decisions.
Though existing North Jersey hospices are generally accommodating of these concerns, only two programs in the state are listed as accredited on the Website of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice – one in Cranford, the other in Livingston – by virtue of having completed specialized training. In 2002, the NIJH granted accreditation to Paramus-based Life Source to set up a Jewish hospice program. However, that program folded after just six months.
“Hospice is underutilized nationally and in the Jewish community as well,” Dube acknowledged. “But it is such a helpful option for families at a difficult time and could change the whole experience for them in a truly positive way. In a Jewish program, the rabbi makes sure families receive services that recognize and align with their specific needs and customs.”
|Jewish Community Hospice chaplain Rabbi Nathan Langer and Rachel Dube, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Jewish community liaison. courtesy Englewood Hospital and Medical Center|
As part of the hospital’s effort to publicize this service, both the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis recently received presentations on the new program.
“We invited them so that we could learn more to be able to share information with our congregants,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, president of the NJBR and religious leader of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne. “Their name was somewhat confusing to us in that we had thought they would be a community-wide program, but they are restricted to Bergen County by New Jersey regulations. While the program currently only exists through Englewood Hospital, it is the hope of the rabbis that other hospitals will follow suit.”
Patricia Ballerini, patient-care director at the Englewood Hospital hospice for the past 26 years, told The Jewish Standard she was long convinced of a need for such a program, given the county’s large Jewish population.
“We always had a [gentile] spiritual counselor serving all our clients,” she said, “but now we have brought on Rabbi Nathan Langer, who is credentialed in hospice care and has been well received by Jewish patients. He can work with the patient’s rabbi or directly with the patient.”
She added that many Jewish clients are Holocaust survivors. “In the end stage of life, this brings up a lot of past memories and a great many issues that our chaplain would not have been able to discuss as well as Rabbi Langer can,” she said. “He’s been a tremendous help in resolving a lot of their issues.”
In order to serve patients who cannot be cared for at home, Englewood Hospital’s hospice is contracted with most nursing facilities in Bergen County, including the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. Ballerini had frequently discussed the idea of a Jewish-specific program with the home’s president, Charles Berkowitz, and with Alan Musicant, manager of Gutterman and Musicant Jewish Funeral Directors and Wien & Wien Memorial Chapels. “Finally we all sat down and decided to take on the project,” she said.
Musicant said that more than 30 percent of the families served by his chapel have been touched by hospice in some way. “Almost to the person, we hear that the family wished they had been introduced to hospice much sooner, because it had not only provided specialized care to a patient who was not responsive to curative care, but also to a secondary issue of being responsive to the strain on the family caregiver,” said Musicant, who called the Jewish Community Hospice Program “the most amazing thing I’ve been involved with in a long time.”
Musicant stressed the importance of a Jewish environment for Jews nearing the end of their lives as a way to maintain or rekindle their religiosity and “provide the spiritual dignity that enhances the quality of life in terminally ill patients.”
“Hospice is about promoting life, and that’s the same for all patients,” said Ballerini. “We do everything we can to enhance the time they have left.” She cited the example of one patient who was helped to realize her dream of going to Aruba before she died. “It’s about making the best of it, with comfort and dignity, on your terms.”
For more information on the Jewish Community Hospice Program or to learn about becoming a hospice volunteer, call Judith Stampfl, hospice volunteer coordinator, at (201) 894-3333.