“Hospice is an old term, dating to medieval times. It is meant to convey ‘rest and comfort’ and not ‘ready to die.’ We provide a quality of life to patients and families facing a life-limiting illness,” Michele Allen, executive director for Affinity Care of Virginia, LLC, says. “Our customized care meets the needs of the patient and family.”
Affinity Care is new to Virginia. The Newport News office opened in November 2020. Later this year, offices will open in Richmond, Roanoke, Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C. “It will be a busy year,” says Allen. She is based in Richmond and travels all over the state. “There is a large Medicare population in this area,” Allen says, “and the need is growing.”
“Hospice has become an unhappy word,” Chris Duke, RN, Affinity’s clinical director, says. “Perhaps ‘palliative’ would be better.” There is no time limit for hospice care, which is covered by Medicare. It also benefits the family as much as the patient. “Statistics show that patients live as much as 33 days longer under hospice care,” Allen says. It is not about giving up hope, but rather living comfortably.
There needs to be more education regarding the benefits of hospice and more emphasis on the variety of services, Duke says. As expected, there is nursing care, coordinated with the patient’s physician. Other professionals include social workers, spiritual care, bereavement counselors and massage therapists. Extended services available as needed include dietitians, pharmacists and physical/respiratory/occupational therapists. This extensive team coordinates with the family to meet the patient’s needs. Supplies and medical equipment are provided.
The care comes to the patient — personal residences, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospital hospice units or inpatient hospice centers — wherever needed.
“The family doesn’t want to ‘give up,’” Duke says. Facing the loss of a family member is hard, especially if there is disagreement. It is important to keep the patient at the center and meet those needs first. “Controlling pain and any other symptoms is most important,” she adds. The social worker can help focus on what is happening, what will change and what to expect.
Duke is especially proud of some services that Affinity provides. There is a board certified, licensed musical therapist who provides music tailored to the patient’s tastes. Experience shows that music is calming and can control symptoms and anxiety. “We work with a musician who writes a personal song for the family,” Duke says.
“Another service we are excited about is virtual reality,” Allen says. With the aid of two headsets — one for the patient and one for a family member — and help from the staff, a variety of experiences are available. “The pictures are vivid, and it is possible to go almost anywhere,” she says. There can be a trip to the beach or a tour of the Taj Mahal. Both are experiencing the same event and can talk with each other. Also, thanks to Google, a birds-eye view of the patient’s neighborhood is possible.
Equine therapy is another option. When appropriate, volunteers assist patients (at a Southside location) with riding (or visiting) a horse. We strive to go beyond the basics,” Duke says. “Medicare sets guidelines but Affinity offers more. We feel this sets us apart from other services.”
“Education is a large part of our job,” Allen says. “Unfortunately, medical schools do not provide any training regarding the end of life.”
Duke lives in Windsor. She began her medical career as an LPN. Her RN training took place at the Practical School of Nursing at Obici Hospital, and her associate degree in nursing is from Paul D. Camp Community College. Her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing was earned online from the University of Phoenix. “I am a third-generation nurse,” she says, “and I always knew I would work in hospice. “It has been my favorite all along.” Duke is married with two children, 8 and 11. Her family enjoys the beach, especially the Outer Banks. Her hobbies are reading and cake decorating.
Allen was born in Bakersfield, California. Her father was in the oil business and they moved every two years. She also lived in Arizona and Texas. She had family in Virginia and visited them often. “When I could, I just ‘up and moved’ here,” she says. She worked in an emergency room for 10 years and has been in hospice care for 10 years. “It has been a good transition,” she says. Allen raises chickens and enjoys going to the beach. Even though her job involves a lot of travel, she still looks forward to weekend “getaways” and tries to take a special trip every few months. “I also visit Disney World every year,” she adds. Her future travel plans include Bosnia, Israel, Jamaica and Costa Rica. As for cruising, she prefers “hot cruising’ (Caribbean) over “cold cruising” (Alaska), she says with a smile.
TO THE POINT:
Affinity Care of Virginia, LLC
Address: 714 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Ste. C, Newport News VA 23606-2574
Business: Hospice care provider
Contacts: Michele Allen, RN, executive director; Chris Duke, RN, Clinical Director
Email: info@affinity virginia.com