Suzon Warner: offering help through hospice

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., May. 24, 2011
Hospice office coordinator Donna Hendrickson (r) works with hospice bereavement coordinator Suzon Warner at Day Kimball Hospital. Photo by Denise Coffey
Hospice office coordinator Donna Hendrickson (r) works with hospice bereavement coordinator Suzon Warner at Day Kimball Hospital. Photo by Denise Coffey

Day Kimball Hospital’s employee of the month, hospice bereavement coordinator Suzon Warner, came to her position from an internship experience with the hospital. She was doing a field practicum in Human Service for Quinebaug Valley Community College, when Hospice Director Sue Lessard had her research bereavement support groups. There wasn’t much in the area at the time. Warner was able to piece together ideas and models from around the country and develop bereavement groups at Day Kimball. Nineteen years later she is still working with those bereavement groups.

Being told you have a terminal illness is devastating, said Warner, not only for the individual but for family and friends, as well. If a patient’s diagnosis is such that life expectancy is six months or less, that patient is eligible for hospice care.

What Warner and the hospice staff do is coordinate a complex array of services, including medical care, symptom relief and emotional, spiritual and practical support, depending on a patient’s wishes and a family’s needs. Each case is different.

Hospice nurses have direct links to doctors so that medical care can be started instantly. Support services such as home health aides and hospice volunteers can be scheduled quickly. Some patients want pastoral care and some do not. Some caregivers need assistance providing home care to their loved ones. Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid in 47 states and by most private insurance companies. Complementary care such as reiki, reflexology, pet therapy and massage can be ordered by doctors as part of the integrative care that hospice patients receive.

“We’re here to help,” Warner said. “Even if that help is sitting with a patient for a few hours while the spouse or caregiver reads a book or runs some errands.”

When nurse Mary Brodeur’s 53-year-old husband Steven was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, she didn’t want to believe it. “He was such a strong man,” she said, “working six days a week, sometimes for 12-hour shifts.” A persistent cough sent him to the doctor’s office, where they found spots on both kidneys. “You see two areas of unknown origins, there’s a 99.9 percent chance it’s cancer,” Brodeur said. “But I did not want to say it.”

Eventually she saw the need for hospice. It became harder for her to take care of him by herself, and his medical needs became more complicated.

“He wanted to stay at home,” she said. “He was alert and oriented. He made his own decisions. He wanted his family to be able to come in and out of the room. It was his choice, and I felt if I could do it at home that was the best.”

The hospice staff worked around the Brodeur’s specific needs. They asked what they could do to help. Nurses visited regularly and kept in direct contact with his doctors. Doctor’s orders could be filled immediately. They tried to help the Brodeurs as best they could.

“Everyone deals with death the best they can,” Brodeur said. After Steven died, Warner kept in touch with Mary to let her know about the support groups offered through Day Kimball. “They continue the process to help people grieve,” Brodeur said. “They do so much quietly. They give families a chance to remember their loved ones in a safe environment. People need that time to heal.”

Death is a difficult subject to address. Holidays and anniversaries make it more difficult. Warner tries to address the need people have to deal with the deaths of their loved ones at holidays and throughout the year. There is the Good Grief support group for children and an adult support group. She also facilitates a holiday support group for families just before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

Brodeur has found the groups helpful. “When you’re with people who’ve gone through it, you’re less likely to upset someone,” she said. “It gives you a chance to talk about the person you lost and how you’re going to go on.”

Coordinating bereavement groups is not an easy job for Warner. She gets a lot of support from her family and her co-workers. The cards she gets from people telling her how much the groups have helped them make all the difference in the world.

At this year’s annual planting ceremony in the Rainbow Garden on the grounds of Day Kimball, Brodeur’s two grandchildren were there to help plant pink geraniums in memory of Steven.

“It was good that, as a family, we could remember him,” Brodeur said. “Everyone talked about him. Even though we don’t see him anymore, we can still love and remember him.”

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