While the nation grapples with health-care reform policies, one Santa Barbara agency looks past the fiscal frenzy to provide free services for community members in need.

Since 1975, Hospice of Santa Barbara has assisted individuals through times of grief and hardship without requiring insurance or a surfeit of fees. Executive Director Steve Jacobsen said that services provided for 300 or so people each month does not draw funding from the county or the state.

“We’re supported by the community of Santa Barbara with donations,” said Jacobsen. “People contribute to us, and when they realize that everything we do is for free, they feel really good because they know it’s going directly to serve [others].”

Although Jacobsen said the hospice does not provide direct medical services like some others, it partners with visiting nurses and hospitals, and helps those in need find good resources. However, Jacobsen said Hospice of Santa Barbara focuses most heavily on the wishes of the individual in various medical scenarios, such as being “hooked up on machines, with no hope of recovering.”

“We encourage people to think about what they would do in that situation,” said Jacobsen.

Regardless of faith or personal preferences, the hospice not only helps people with their living wills, but also provides a dozen different grief support groups, several hospice workers who travel as far as Carpinteria and Gaviota, and personal counseling. And where medical analysts and Washington politicians toss medical jargon back and forth, this area agency deals with and explains relevant terms in its free End of Life Planning program.

“I can have someone explain the legal language with me and with my family,” said Jacobsen, explaining the organization’s program. “Another thing is that I can appoint somebody [like a family member] if I’m not competent in that situation to make the decision [to stay on life support] for me.”

Though fewer than one percent of American hospices provide free services, Jacobsen said he feels everyone should receive care, especially during a time of anguish. But despite growing health-care debates, Jacobsen says the hospice never takes a stance on political topics. “We don’t endorse any issue, but this whole issue of advanced planning is just really important, and it’s designed to really lessen human suffering,” said Jacobsen.

Jacobsen said giving people the “power to decide what they want” when they pass on is in fact an “act of love,” both for the individual and family members who often find themselves stricken in crisis. “It’s all about love,” said Jacobsen. “For me to do it now and tell my family-when they have to face it, they’ll think, ‘Wow, Dad really thought about us.'”

Jacobsen said he hopes patients can discuss openly with their doctors how they want their final days arranged.

For Jacobsen, helping his community in its time of need is the hospice’s best decision. “We do the free service because we felt that if we could do that, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Visit Hospice of Santa Barbara at hospiceofsantabarbara.org.


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