Metro doctors break down different types of end-of-life care

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – What is hospice care? What is palliative care? Are they different than comfort care like what former First Lady Barbara Bush opted for?

As Bush made the choice to spend her final days at home, FOX4 Problem Solver Megan Dillard is working for you to explain the differences and the conversation you should be having with your loved ones.

After a recent series of hospital visits, Bush said no earlier this week to more medical treatment. According to her family, she decided instead to focus on comfort care.

“Comfort care is an approach to a patient who has decided not to get any more aggressive treatment,” said Richard Butin, medical director of the Palliative Care Team at Truman Medical Center.

He and his clinical lead, Vivian Hemmat, said it feels almost holy to be with someone as they die.

“You have to keep things in perspective," Hemmat said. "We’re all walking that pathway. We’ll all come to end of life at some point in time. It’s a passage. Just like birth is a passage, death is passage, too.”

The pair explained end of life care and clarified the terminology.

Palliative care can be received throughout an illness and is aimed at symptom relief. Hospice care includes palliative care, but instead of active treatment, it’s more near the end.

“I think some people think hospice is giving up, but it doesn’t," Butin said. "Hospice just means that everybody agrees that from now on, aggressive treatment will be of very little benefit.”

Instead, Butin said hospice workers help a person stay as comfortable as possible and teach family members what to expect.

David Wiley was unfamiliar until his mother went to Kansas City Hospice House. She spent her last nine days there, and Wiley said the staff was amazing, calling them “angels.”

“I think that people are scared of the word hospice, and you know, I urge people to learn about it," he said.

He didn’t know it then, but Wiley would become the president of the Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care, and he sees hospice work as an honor.

“Typically family members comment to us, 'We wish we would’ve known about this sooner,'" he said.

Butin agrees, it's a topic that should be talked about sooner than later.

“Every single person should have this discussion with their family because otherwise the default is always fortunately, aggressive treatment but at a point, somebody might decide they might not want full aggressive treatment until death," he said.

All suggested having an advanced directive or will on file. Click the links below to learn more: