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Meet Catherine Hamel, President of Gilchrist

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Laura Tenbus

June 11, 2020
Having to find a new doctor can be a daunting task. It’s difficult to know whether they’ll be a good fit for you from just a biography and a photo online. In the series, “What’s Up, Dr. Dovec?” GBMC bariatric surgeon, Elizabeth Dovec, MD, FACS, FASMB, interviews providers across the GBMC HealthCare System so you can get to know them on a personal level and learn more about their specialties. In this episode, Dr. Dovec interviews Catherine Hamel, President of Gilchrist, who talks about end-of-life decision making and the many services that Gilchrist provides beyond hospice care.

Catherine described Gilchrist’s Elder Medical Care program that serves in conjunction with hospice. “We recognize that it’s hard for people to decide to go to hospice, but they need care,” she said, “so, we’ve built a program called Elder Medical Care that is home-based and is used in advance of hospice.” This program, which is made up of a team of pharmacists, social workers, practitioners, and more, is generally for patients who have difficulty going to a physician practice for care and have multiple chronic illnesses. “We essentially bring a primary care office to the bedside at home,” Catherine explained.

When it is time for a patient to enter hospice care, the Gilchrist team does everything they can to provide comfort and support to both the patient and their family. “There are many components to death and dying,” said Catherine. “There is medical care, emotional support for the family, and often a religious or spiritual aspect.” For those who desire, GBMC’s Spiritual Support team joins the care team, which regularly meets to discuss each patient’s care plan.

Many people avoid the topic of death and dying, so Dr. Dovec asked Catherine why she chose to go into end-of-life care. Catherine went on to describe how her father had a heart attack at age 35 and how it changed her perspective on life. “I had to have conversations about what death might mean to him. That was a special moment for us.” Throughout her life she has also found herself gravitating towards older people. “I think the wisdom that they bring and the stories they tell about their lives have helped to enrich mine.”

Dr. Dovec and Catherine discussed end-of-life decisions and how important it is to have conversations about these decisions with loved ones. The first step is to designate someone who can speak on your behalf if you are unable to communicate. This person is called a healthcare decision maker and should have intimate knowledge of your wishes. There are many resources, both online and in-person, available to help guide you through this process and create advance directives. Every patient at the GBMC is hospital is provided with a list of these resources and can create an advance directive, if desired.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic significantly changed the way Gilchrist provided care, but Catherine is proud of how the team has stepped up during the crisis. “It has been really inspiring for me,” she said. In early April, Gilchrist opened the only dedicated hospice unit for COVID-19 positive patients in the state of Maryland and the team has performed significant work in nursing homes. While the addition of personal protective equipment (PPE) has created some challenges, the staff is working harder than ever to connect with patients and their families despite the physical barriers. “It’s different, but we’re grateful that we have remained healthy and able to serve our patients,” Catherine expressed.

To learn more about hospice and Elder Medical Care, call Gilchrist at 888-823-8880. A care navigator will speak with you to answer your questions and suggest the next steps for your care.
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