By Courtney Naliboff
Conversations about end-of-life decisions can be emotional, challenging, and are often avoided until a moment of crisis. But a group of health care providers on North Haven hopes to help families and loved ones begin those conversations earlier through a community read.
Nurse practitioner and Southern Harbor Eldercare Services board treasurer Sue Ferra said community and staff at Southern Harbor House, North Haven’s eldercare facility, will be invited to read At Peace: Choosing a Good Death After a Long Life, by Samuel Harrington, MD.
“A couple years ago we did a community read with a book called Being Mortal (by Atul Gawande), so we thought we’d try doing a community read again,” Ferra said. “The purpose is to try to get into that difficult conversation, sitting down with your loved one and figuring out how to write a living will and making decisions about resuscitation.”
At Peace explores “terminal diagnoses” like dementia, COPD, and heart failure, she explained, and discusses the timeline of considering backing away from medical care and interventions and focusing instead on comfort or palliative care.
Copies of At Peace will be available to borrow from the North Haven Library, or can be purchased through most booksellers. Following the reading, Southern Harbor House will host a discussion moderated by Dr. Bob Bach. A silent auction and raffle will also occur to raise funds for the facility, a non-profit dedicated to keeping North Haven’s elderly on island.
“[Dr. Bach] has palliative care experience at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He’s reading the book now and we’re going to sit down and talk about it,” Ferra said. “It will be interesting to hear his perspective because he also has a theology type bent on things,” she said.
A challenge of eldercare on an island is access to hospice care. Southern Harbor House hopes to access a full hospice care team through a partnership with Pen Bay Hospital.
“The availability of hospice care and the different agencies who are involved with it are just incredible in what they want to do,” said Southern Harbor Eldercare Services board president Kathi Lovell. “But I imagine remote areas can make it difficult to bring the care and the services they want to have.”
A hospice team includes a physician, a nurse, a chaplain, and a social worker, Ferra said, and functions on the premise that the patient is the whole family.
If a full hospice team isn’t available, palliative care through Maine Healthcare at Home is an option that allows islanders to remain on North Haven.
“If the terminally ill patient has to go to the hospital, it’s quite an obstacle to get visitors over there,” Ferra said. “If you were a resident of Rockland and you were at Pen Bay, your family could easily hop in the car and go. That’s not the case here. A lot of people who were raised on the island don’t want to leave. They want to stay on the island if possible.”
Southern Harbor House recently went through the loss of its first resident, said administrator Lindsey Beverage, and she hopes reading At Peace will support their staff in accessing resources and information. As a new organization, she said she hopes the reading will provide “validation that what we are doing is not vastly different from what happens elsewhere in the world, but a lot of what we are able to do is vastly different than what happens in a larger nursing home with a staff and community that wasn’t connected to the residents that live here.”
Board president Kathi Lovell said she hopes that regardless of whether they can attend the discussion and fundraiser, North Haveners will choose to read At Peace.
“My personal opinion is even if you can’t make it to the fundraiser, read the book because this is just something our country is going to deal with more and more and more as the baby boomers start getting older and older, but I would love them to read it and come and ask questions that are specific to the island and island community,” she said.