HOM reaches out to Hispanic community


Hospice of Michigan is looking to bring awareness and education to better serve the end-of-life needs of the Hispanic community.

The palliative care health provider is expanding services to meet the needs of the Hispanic community in Grand Rapids through its 1530 Grandville Ave. SW location in Roosevelt Park.

Originally launched in 2013 with a $225,000 grant from the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, the outreach program was designed to bring awareness to Hispanics about the services and benefits of hospice after HOM realized the population underutilized hospice services.

HOM provides a range of palliative care services for terminally ill patients and support for family members, including pain management, symptom control, emotional and spiritual support, grief support, financial assistance and the At Home Support program.

The majority of the first year of the outreach program was spent establishing foundations and connections with the Hispanic community, according to HOM officials. Several of the accomplishments include providing culturally sensitive hospice services and educational materials in Spanish; educating the community on the role of hospice and palliative care services; and offering free English as a Second Language courses.

Judy Ponstine, community outreach liaison for the HOM program and a bilingual registered nurse, said one difficulty the program faced was developing a presence and establishing a level of trust with the Hispanic population.

“I think the community as a whole is a private community,” said Ponstine. “They take care of their own, so to speak. They lack trust in the white American community, so one big challenge was to try to bridge that gap.”

Ponstine worked to create connections with the Hispanic community through several health care, social service and religious organizations, including Clinica Santa Maria, a Mercy Health community health center; Grandville Avenue Academy of the Art; United Church Outreach Ministries; Roosevelt Park Ministries and Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association; and the Cook Library.

“With the establishment of an office right here in the Roosevelt Park area, I think we have established a presence. I have gone to those places and have done other things — non-hospice related — but just to develop a presence and trust,” said Ponstine in reference to the various organizations. “I will tutor a child at the Cook Library, I teach English as a second language, I do blood pressure clinics in various places, and sometimes those experiences give me an opportunity to actually talk about hospice, but mostly they just help me develop trust.”

The outreach program also has partnered with the nursing program at Calvin College to provide free blood pressure and blood sugar screenings at United Church Outreach Ministries and the Baxter Neighborhood Association.

Currently, the interdisciplinary team consists of Ponstine; Jary Lizardo, a bilingual registered nurse originally from Puerto Rico; and Mayra Montero, a bilingual hospice aide and native of Mexico.

With a background in teaching in Grand Rapids Public Schools, including two years as a bilingual educator, Lizardo earned a bachelor of science in nursing from Antillean Adventist University in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Currently serving as a nursing case manager for HOM, Lizardo also worked in a surgical intensive care unit in Puerto Rico.

Montero will assist patients with bathing, meals and medication. With approximately 15 years of experience in clinical and dietary settings, Montero previously worked at Heartland Health Care as a nurse aide for more than four years, and roughly eight years as a dietary aide for Metron of Forest Hills.

As the three-member team works to meet the needs of the Hispanic community, Ponstine said another obstacle is simply educating individuals on the concept of hospice and palliative care.

“I am finding that hospice is a very foreign concept to the Hispanic community. Hospice doesn’t exist in their native countries,” said Ponstine. “When you say ‘hospice’ to someone here, they have no idea what that is; they think immediately of hospital. Education is huge and that is probably my biggest goal: to get the word out there about what hospice is, what we do, and how we can serve the community.”

The HOM program at the Grandville Avenue office is currently serving anyone regardless of insurance status, ability to pay or documentation status, according to Ponstine. As the program consistently serves 16 to 18 patients, the three-year program funded through the Cook Foundation grant will be financially supported by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance company reimbursements, according to HOM.

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