NBC’s Rock Center recently profiled a remarkable hospital in Wisconsin which is helping families get an early start on the heavy-lifting decision-making that most families typically have to endure when their loved one is in their final days. For countless families around the world who have had to watch their husband, wife, parent, or child live out the end of their lives in a hospital bed, there comes a moment where they have to wrestle with the question “Am I keeping them alive for their own sake or because I’m not ready to say goodbye?”
In this fascinating and emotionally riveting profile, Harry Reid visits the Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin which is considered by many healthcare experts to be the best place to die in America. In the accompanying article, Michelle Balani of Rock Center writes of Paul and Jean Pearson, the couple featured in the story: “After being married for 21 years, Paul and Jean Pearson thought they had mastered the art of navigating life’s tough decisions, but nothing could have prepared them for Paul’s illness. Paul, a 73-year-old retired architect, was diagnosed in February with inoperable lung cancer. Although the couple had talked about their healthcare wishes throughout their marriage, the experience forced them to confront how Paul wants to spend the rest of his days … A study conducted by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice found that seven out of 10 Americans die from chronic disease and, as Americans live longer and longer, many families have no end of life game plan in place. The uncertainty over how to handle a loved one’s last days often results in more medical intervention, according to the Dartmouth study. Researchers found that patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life account for about 25 percent of total Medicare spending, much of it paying for repeated hospitalizations. The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care found that the costs of care at Gundersen were significantly lower than the national average. At Gundersen, patients in the last six months of life spend half as many days in the hospital as the national average.”
You can read the full story by visiting RockCenter.NBCNEWS.com, but the real kicker is in Harry Reid’s heart-wrenching report below. There are moments where I choked up myself, not only during the Pearsons’ conversation with a therapist at Gundersen, but also the glimpse of a man in his 90s whose wife was admitted to the hospital after suddenly falling ill with a life-threatening illness. As difficult as some parts are to watch, there is a very good reason why the brilliant team at Gundersen are capturing the attention of the world. Their extraordinarily humane and life-affirming methods are helping families transition their loved ones from this world and into the light with dignity and grace. You can learn more about Gundersen Lutheran Hospital by visiting GundLuth.org.