Despite the prevalence of aggressive, life-prolonging medical procedures, such as feeding tubes, ventilators, and dialysis, once a patient enters a long-term care hospital, L.T.C.H. for short, more than one-third of them will never return home. According to the New York Times, the median survival for such patients is 8.3 months. Much of the time will be spent in a combination of hospitals, skilled nursing home, and specialized rehab facilities.
The high and low spots
Patients in their 60s with musculoskeletal diagnoses, like complications from a hip fracture or joint replacement, do better in L.T.C.H. institutions then people over 80. A high number of patients that are transferred to L.T.C.H facilities from hospitals have undergone a medical procedure called a tracheostomy. Also called a stoma, a tracheostomy is a surgical opening in the windpipe to accommodate a breathing tube that is attached to a ventilator. This procedure is commonly performed on patients who suffer from chronic and severe lung disease and neck cancers among other neck and voice box disorders.
Do people get better?
Sadly, medical professionals define recovery as logging sixty (60) consecutive days without entering a hospital or nursing home. This does not however, include returning to clear thinking and functioning more or less at the same capacity as before the patient was hospitalized. The highs and lows last throughout the process.
Adapting to a tracheostomy tube
Patients report that the worst part of the stoma is their poor quality of life. They experience hunger, thirst, and have a hard time communicating. Patients feel bored, trapped in their bodies, and are lonely. When they visit with friends and family, they feel their families are stressed and anxious. Everyone believes they will return home, but only twenty-percent (20%) do.
An alternative to L.T.C.H. care is hospice care
New York has one long-term care hospital in the entire state. Other states nearby, such as New Hampshire and Vermont have none. Most L.T.C.H. facilities are in Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio, far away for many patients loved-ones to consistently visit. An alternative to returning home for individuals suffering from a terminal illness is to stop treatments and enter a hospice or end-of-life care facility. While at the hospice your loved one will receive relief from pain and shortness of breath to improve comfort. The care team assigned to your loved one is similar to those in the hospital or L.T.C.H. and may include medical professionals such as a doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, social worker, counselor, and chaplain or other religious personnel, like a priest or rabbi. Together, the care team works together to assist with your loved one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.