Valley hospice program lauded for dementia work
By Connie Cone Sexton
The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com
When Maribeth Gallagher came to work for Hospice of the Valley in 2005, she assisted a team that focused on dementia.
Gallagher, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with a doctorate in nursing practice from Arizona State University, now leads the team as its director. It's an area that has brought her great joy and her experience on the job has given her enough fortitude to weather "days that are really difficult." But Gallagher believes her work is "a calling.
"It just felt right, within me."
On March 29, she was recognized by the London-based International Journal of Palliative Nursing for her leadership providing exceptional end-of-life care for dementia patients. Gallagher flew to London to accept her first-place award in the "non-cancer" category in an awards contest sponsored by the journal.
In other honors, Gallagher will be presented with the Program Manager of the Year award Thursday by the Visiting Nurse Associations of America at its annual meeting in Phoenix.
The not-for-profit Hospice of the Valley cares for 4,000 patients a day in Maricopa and northern Pinal counties. About 12 percent of those patients have a primary diagnosis of dementia; more than half have dementia along with other diseases or conditions.
Gallagher has heard from some people who ask her why she likes focusing on patients with dementia. "They say, 'What can you possibly do for people in last stages of dementia?' "
But she points out that dementia is a disease of verbal language; the patient still has a heart and soul to be nurtured and recognition for who they are.
The HOV dementia team educates agency staff, community health-care providers and the public about non-invasive, non-pharmacological ways to maximize quality of life for dementia patients.
Singing, for example, can trigger memories of melodies and lyrics in patients who otherwise cannot speak. For them, Gallagher created a CD of old favorites and spiritual hymns. She also co-created the agency's HOME program to assist families dealing with challenging dementia patients who are not yet eligible for hospice services.