Hospice nurse

A tender hand in the presence of death

By Barbara Pierce

“It’s such a rewarding job. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever done,” said Lisa Alteri.

As a registered nurse working for Hospice & Palliative Care, New Hartford, Alteri cares for those at the most vulnerable point of their lives. Hospice is end-of-life care, providing comfort and support for those with life-limiting illnesses and for their families.

“I can’t cure. I can bring comfort. I want to make sure it is a comfortable death,” she said, her voice showing the passion she feels about her career. Offering a tender hand in the presence of death is a true passion; some would say it is a calling.

“You touch the lives of so many people, so many families,” she said. “I ask myself: Did I make a difference in this person’s life? Did I make a difference to this family?”

Hospice nursing gives you the opportunity to make a meaningful difference to people, which is really what nursing is all about.

“I’m having a soft landing.”

When she found this note from her husband after he died in hospice care, Flo Glasser felt such a sense of peace. Hospice made a big difference to her and to her husband.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” Alteri said. “I always wanted to be a hospice nurse. After I had four kids, I went back to school to become a hospice nurse.”

“When I was in high school, I lost my mother. That’s what drove me to become a nurse,” she said. “Then I married and my mother-in-law took me in and became my second mother. Then she got cancer; I took care of her as she died.

“It’s not easy to care for a loved one who is so ill. But that’s what got me going every day and made me stronger.”

“Everyone is born, and everyone will die,” she said.

But it’s never easy. Not easy for family members or hospice staff. “When I’m especially attached to a patient, it’s hard. I need to clear my head. I walk or listen to music,” she said.

One thing she especially enjoys about being a hospice nurse: “You work with lot of different people, a lot of nationalities, a lot of beliefs.”

“Some people have it all — they have their families around them at the end of life. Some have no one. Would I want to be alone?” she asked.

She has a special caring for those who are alone, tries to see them every day and makes sure a volunteer spends time with that person.

Leading her charges

“I have a team under my wing,” she said. “A social worker, a chaplain, volunteers, and a home health aide or LPN. They work together, following my lead.”

The team works to support the patient and family. It is important to learn what the patient and family want, as they are in charge. Team members let her know if there is something she needs to address. “We’re available 24/7,” she said.

Educating family members is an important part of what she does. “I educate myself about the patient’s diagnosis so I can have an idea of what we will see at the end, and so that I can prepare the patient and the family for what will happen. What does rapid breathing or other symptoms mean? Educating them about what to expect helps them get through. Knowing what to expect makes them more comfortable,” she said.

Alteri obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing, taking special courses in critical care. To prepare to become a hospice nurse, after becoming an RN, she worked in a special care unit caring for catastrophically ill and medically complex patients, and then in a dialysis unit. “That got me in the door to hospice,” she added. She began at Hospice & Palliative Care two years ago.

“It’s a great career,” she noted. “Any nurse who is interested in hospice should get experience in critical care — get all the experience you can in critical care — because you’ll be making critical decisions as a hospice nurse.”

“We are fortunate to have such an amazing, caring and skilled staff person,” Hospice & Palliative Care Community Support Services Supervisor Laurie Barr said about Alteri. “She’s amazing and her patients and families are lucky.”

Frances Mannino’s husband received care from Hospice and Palliative Care in their home in Utica. “Hospice came and helped us get through,” she said. “They are such wonderful, compassionate, loving, caring people. They are angels.”

The hospice team serves people in Oneida, Herkimer and eastern Madison counties. Care is provided for anyone who has a life expectancy of six months or less. Nurses specialize in pain control and symptom management. Services are available to anyone who needs them, regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay.

For more information on Hospice & Palliative Care, see www.hospicecareinc.org/ or call 315-735-6487.