Hospice Care at Home Eases Not Just Final Days, But Final Months

“Don’t Wait Too Long To Start”

It was the summer of 2015, and Ray West was shaved, dressed, and sitting up on the couch in the cozy front room of the Samarkand apartment he shared with his wife Jean. His eyes beamed as he spoke about their 65th wedding anniversary, and a “dream” trip to photograph Yosemite, arranged by the Dream Foundation.

He met Jean at a church function (“I chased you for two years,” she added), and they have two sons, David and Gregory, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

“Jean bought me my first camera, a Rollicord, as a wedding present,” he recalled. Even in his last days, Ray still took pictures, but with a modern digital camera. “I like to photograph the hummingbirds.”

He pointed through the window at the hanging pots of pink geraniums that was home to a nest of hummingbirds. Jean and his social worker Tracy exchanged a pointed look, then laughed.

“But no more ladders!” they exclaimed. Just the week before, this 89-year old hospice patient climbed a stepstool to get a close-up view of a nest in a hanging pot.

Many people assume that hospice is an option only at the very end of life. But after Ray made several trips to the hospital, he and Jean chose to start hospice with VNA Health sooner than many people often do.

“We needed more help at home,” recalled Jean. “Our friends thought we were crazy for putting Ray on hospice when we did, but they didn’t understand what is available.”

With VNA Health hospice care at home, Ray received twice-a-week home visits from his hospice nurse, his social worker visited weekly. A home health aide was there three times a week to help with showers and to perform reflexology on his feet.

Thom, a VNA Health Hospice-Trained Volunteer and U.S. Veteran, visited often to help Ray mount and frame his photographs. Ray continued to be as active as he could, and framed several photographs to hang in Samarkand’s Life Center, where he had a solo art show last spring. Yes, that was after he started hospice care.

Often Ray would say, “It seems like they are here all the time. They are very caring and sincere people. It comes from the heart. It amazes me how dedicated they are to their work of caring for other people.”

Ray served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, loading munitions in landlocked Hawthorne, Nevada. After the war, Ray became a sought-after movie sound recordist/mixer and worked on more than 60 films—winning an Academy Award in 1977 for his work on “Star Wars”—before he retired in 1993.

In recognition of Ray’s military service, the VNA Health Volunteer Department, working with the national program “We Honor Veterans,” arranged for Ray to be honored. Aaron, a local volunteer and retired Air Force, presented Ray with a special veteran pin at a home ceremony attended by family and VNA Health team members.

LEFT: Ray’s Veteran Pinning service. RIGHT Ray with Hazel Blankenship, Co-founder of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation; Arlene Stepputat, former VNA Health Volunteer Manager; Ray West; Pat Avolio, Former VNA Health RN Case Manager. Also, Ray is pictured with his patriotic quilt, designed by Carol Barringer, Community Projects Chair of the Coastal Quilters Guild, who oversees the Sew for Veterans Project.

In addition to medical, social, and trained volunteer services, other services available to hospice patients include music services, reflexology, and aromatherapy. Also pet therapy provides certified dogs, a bunny, and a cat for visits. Spiritual support is offered, as is anticipatory grief counseling. All are free of charge to those receiving VNA Health hospice services.

“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t embrace this program as soon as they need help,” said Jean. “Hospice has been wonderful for us. Don’t wait too long to start.”

Since the publication of Ray and Jean’s story in 2015, Ray has passed; but their message to our community lives on: “Hospice has been wonderful for us. Don’t wait too long to start. Don’t wait too long to start.”

Hospice care is a benefit under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, Medi-Cal and most private insurances. To learn more about hospice care and how VNA Health can help you, call 805.965.5555.

VNA Health also provides in-patient hospice care at its Serenity House with 24/7 medical care. When hospice care at home becomes too difficult or stressful, Serenity House can be a home away home. The only one of its kind in Santa Barbara County, Serenity House offers private rooms in a homelike setting, with plenty of space for family and friends to visit. Take the digital tour at: