By Alanna Berman
Of all the cultural and religious Jewish traditions, those surrounding the death and mourning process can be the most complex and least understood. That’s why, in 2003, Lightbridge Hospice and Palliative Care decided founded Ohr Ami, a Jewish hospice program for members of the Jewish community and their families.
“We realized…that hospice providers in San Diego were not doing anything unique to honor the traditions in the Jewish community around end of life,” President and CEO Jill Mendlen says.
A team of staff including nurses, social workers, physicians, home health aides, counselors and volunteers provide care for clients near the end of life, under the supervision of an organization that is licensed and accredited by the federal government’s joint commission accredited program for hospices.
“In the hospice benefit, we provide all the medications related to end of life care, all the equipment, and we bring not only the support of our clinical services, but whatever it takes to make our patients comfortable,” Mendlen says.
Rabbi Ralph Dalin, Ohr Ami’s religious director, assists in training staff on complex religious observances and rituals and attends to the religious component of Ohr Ami, seeing patients as a rabbi chaplain.
“The important thing is that when we do, for instance, music therapy, or special prayers at the end of life, all of those things are done within a Jewish context,” Mendlen says. “If we are providing something for people to read, we are always making sure we are honoring the Jewish needs, and in terms of music, Rabbi Dalin selects the music to share with the patient and their family [keeping the Jewish component in mind].”
Medicare or MediCal usually pay for end of life hospice care, including Ohr Ami, and benefits are also available to anyone with private insurance as well.
Including a patient’s family in hospice care is another important aspect of Ohr Ami’s program. Its representatives ensure each patient’s individual plan of care is established with input from both the patient and his or her family. Should the patient die, Ohr Ami makes bereavement services available to the family for up to one year. Naturally, those services are also tailored to the unique mourning rituals that occur in Judaism.
“Hospice is about living every day to its fullest and making every day the best we can,” Mendlen says. “Only God knows when anybody is going to leave our world, but people associate hospice with death. And while that certainly is sometimes a component of it, our job is to make every day [of remaining life] as good as we can make it. That’s what we should be doing with hospice care, and that’s what we do.”
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