Acknowledging Our Beginnings

 

While sitting over a cup of coffee, Joyce Perrin and Dorothy Payne, both nurses, lamented about two very different yet similar situations, which had occurred involving friends during the last days of their lives. We remarked about the lack of knowledge of what happens when an expat dies in Panama and also the lack of a support system for the family. It was from the deep feelings of wanting to help people and their families who are in that “end of life” situation that we decided to explore what would it take to start a hospice program in Panama City.

Panama is a country that attracts many retirees due in part to its affordable cost of living, warm climate, modern medical services and easy immigration process. While medical services in general are good, services for homecare, chronic illness and end of life care, especially in English, are very limited. The reason for this may be cultural as many Panamanians have extended families and are accustomed to caring for family members at home, decreasing the need for external services to the extent needed by expatriates. Also, the number of people immigrating to Panama has increased sharply in the past few years. Now these people are aging and requiring a plan and a system of care for the next phase of their lives. Sometimes an illness or deterioration occurs quickly and the retiree is unable or does not wish to return to the home country for end of life care.

In the fall of 2012, Joyce went to Boquete where a successful volunteer Hospice program was active and arranged to meet with the founders, the board and other active members. The meetings were inspiring and with the full support of Boquete Hospice and Health Foundation, Joyce returned with documents. The excitement increased as she shared her findings with Dorothy. It was then we decided to make a commitment to plan a Hospice project in Panama City.

In the spring of 2013 three expatriate nurses, Joyce, Dorothy and Sally Lindskoog set out on a road trip to Boquete. The purpose of the trip was to take part in the hospice volunteer training of Boquete Hospice and Health Foundation.

With a great deal of support and encouragement from our friends at the Boquete Hospice and Health Foundation and much examination of the different elements of forming a hospice/respite support system in Panama City, we had a vision. In the months that followed the vision was shared and the basic elements of the foundation were put to paper. This led to the formation of a steering committee and the application for private foundation status under the name Panama Hospice and Respite Foundation (PHRF).

Our primary objective is to provide support to those English speaking people who have a terminal illness and are in the final weeks of life and to provide some respite to their caregivers. This support will augment the care provided by the client´s own health care team but is not intended to replace it. In addition we will provide crisis support to those expatriates with temporary illnesses or disabilities who have limited at home support. This support service will only be available if our resources are not being utilized for hospice services at the time of the request. Our loan cupboard is being created to provide home care items to assist families in caring for loved ones more comfortably. Finally we will provide information to our community on managing health care with aging, understanding the medical and legal issues around health care and dealing with the dying process in Panama. As part of this community service we will have a blood donor roster system that people can access in an emergency or donate to as they wish.

PHRF as a volunteer run foundation is very much a community initiative and while we are exploring and developing relationships with Spanish speaking parties within Panama´s expanding palliative care network we will be offering our services to the English speaking community first. This takes into consideration the great need within our community and the best use of our resources.

Our foundation continues to participate in initiatives such as ¨Healthy Aging Seminars¨ and Blood Donor Clinics which have allowed us to broaden our community focus.

We offer our services free of charge but have a donor program which help offset the cost of administering our programs. We also welcome donations of homecare equipment that we identify as appropriate.

In October 2014 we expanded our program to Coronado and the surrounding beach area. 

We have trained 37 volunteers and our goal is to increase that number by structuring our training sessions to be more flexible for potential volunteers while still meeting the needs of our Clients/Patients. We will offer our training on a regular basis and as the demand requires.

If you wish to stay abreast of our current programs, resources and donor program please visit us at www.panamahospiceandrespite.org

Thank you for your continued support. PHRF values community participation as we pursue the hospice/respite needs of our English speaking community. While we recognize that death is a certainty for each of us, Focusing on Quality of Life, during one´s entire life is our mantra.

We especially wish to place in our history the names of those founding donors who had believed in our mission as we began in Panama City:  Diamond Donors – Loretta Lim, Dorothy and Edward Payne, Robert Potuzak, Toni Williams-Sanchez, Bob Askew, Rita Sosa. Founding Donors - Michael Bartlett, Karen Barnett, William Mariano, Red Hat Association of Panama, Enrique Sanchez, Ed and Vicki Sizemore, Liz Waring, Charlie Garcia, Cedric Gittens, American Society of Panama, Maria and Frank Harrison, Marciana Wilkerson, Joyce Perrin, Joan Atherley, Eunice A. Greaves, Belkis Santos, Charlotte Pierce, Sharene and James Smoot, John Winters, Sandie Davis, Lisa Love, David Dixon, Janet King, Marilyn Kelly, Pat and Ed Kosmalski, Steve Schwartz, Anonymous Donor.