Peace and dignity in death

LIHUE — Don Schumacher keeps a busy work schedule.

But it’s a job he loves.

On Tuesday, the president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization toured Kauai to start off an island tour where he said he simply wants to continue helping those who need a loving hand in an otherwise down time.

He knows the value of his industry. After all, it’s a profession he chose because of personal experience.

“Years and years ago I had some early deaths in my life; my grandmother, my best friend and another girl who lived next door and all of those situations were very difficult as a young person,” Schumacher said. “But what’s most difficult is that I come from a family where we didn’t talk about difficult issues so nobody talked about the fact that they died or were dying.”

Although Schumacher understood why his family never spoke about death, he felt something was missing. Originally intending to become an English teacher, Schumacher found his true calling to care for others after listening to a lecture presented by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross about a dying child. Schumacher said he began to change his points of views about death and thus changed his field of study from education to health care.

Now, as the CEO of NHCO, Schumacher strives to care for those who are severely ill and have reached the end of their life’s journey, through the Hospice Care Program.

“Hospice is the greatest opportunity for dying patients and their families to be with each other during a very difficult time period and to say goodbye to each other in the most appropriate way possible,” said Schumacher, four-year president of the organization. “And for that patient to receive good pain and symptom management and psychological support as they’re dying is a wonderful benefit.”

The president also stated that as of last year, 1.1 million people received hospice care in the United States. There are 5,500 programs in the U.S.

Some of Schumacher’s responsibilities include training for advocacy care, development and strategic planning and, although the president intends to relax while he visits Kauai, he also intends to continue working with the hospice program on the island while he is here.

“I remain incredibly committed to making sure that the dying receive comfort, peace and dignity the way that they need it and the way they deserve before they die,” Schumacher said.

In addition to helping the patients of hospice, Schumacher also does his best to comfort those who are left behind with the hardships of their loved one’s death.

“I think there’s great opportunity when you face death to truly understand the beauty of life,” he said.

It marks the president’s third visit to Kauai. Schumacher will fly to Honolulu on today and then to Hilo, to Kona and to San Diego before flying back to Washington D.C on Saturday. Schumacher is pleased with the growth of Kauai Hospice and across the other islands.

“It’s been a very wonderful, mutually endearing opportunity to be here,” the CEO said. “There’s wonderful people who work in this organization and actually all over the islands.”

Schumacher hopes to expand the hospice medicare benefit from six months or less to a year.

“The most important thing for your readers to know is that they shouldn’t wait too late to get hospice care,” Schumacher said. “One of the biggest regrets people have through hospice is that they didn’t start the program sooner. It doesn’t mean that you are imminently dying or are going to die tomorrow, but if in fact your illness, whatever you’re struggling with, hasn’t been cured, what’s important then is that you be cared for and hospice is the greatest care organization for people who are terminally ill in this country and actually all around the world.”

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