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Providing hospice care to homeless Washingtonians in their last days

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Many of the illnesses and conditions that people face are often worse for the homeless, who often lack access to medical care and whose conditions are typically worsened by their lack of permanent housing. Hospice programs for the homeless around Washington help to ensure that their last days are more comfortable and they have people around them.

For KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney, there is a bit of sad irony here, in that it seems like we are providing better care to homeless in their last days than we are when they need it most.

“There is a minor irony here. When you’re given a six month or less, in effect, death sentence, we as a society are much more compassionate because of our hospice care,” Tom said. “The homeless in their last six months of life are getting treatment that they could never afford, or we as a society could never afford to give to them when they weren’t dying.”

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According to Crosscut, though, there aren’t state laws ensuring that a homeless person in hospice care gets housing. Various organizations work to provide care for them, including Plymouth supportive housing, Providence Hospice of Seattle, Franciscan Hospice and Palliative Care, and a mobile homeless palliative care team operated by Harborview, among others.

Washington’s homeless population is the fifth highest in the country, and more than one-third of the deaths (73 of 194) of homeless people related to natural causes, reports Crosscut.

“The suggestion … is that maybe we should consider having a hospice-dedicated hospital kind of place for the homeless,” Tom said. “After all, the homeless die a good 10 to 20 years earlier than most of us do, because it’s such a hard life and they don’t have access to medical care. With most of them, their only doctors are ER physicians and the problem with that is that it’s often too late to help them with major things.”

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“I knock you all the time for not having compassionate policies,” said Tom addressing co-host John Curley. “But you yourself are an exhibitor of compassion because you actually work as a hospice person.”

“You guys made fun of it when I got the job,” Curley said. “I had pointed out during the orientation program, I was amazed that I was the only one cracking jokes. You dubbed me the ‘hospice comic’ … Wait, I don’t start the jokes, I just let them know that this is a place of humor. If you’d like to have humor, I’m more than happy. You push a little to see what the audience can withstand.”

“It’s the best medicine, Tom,” Curley added.

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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