A new study out from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice shows Iowa may be one of the nation's leaders when it comes to end-of-life care.
The study looked specifically at Medicare beneficiaries and reimbursement dollars in 2010.
By that measure, Dubuque is second lowest in the study's more than 300 cities nationwide when it comes to costs spent in the last two years of a Medicare beneficiary's life.
Lavonne Noel is executive director of Hospice of Dubuque, a non-profit organization in its 30th year that consistently cares for more than half of all the people who die in Dubuque County annually.
"Our mission is to provide compassionate care for the terminally ill and their loved ones," Noel said.
The majority of those who come through Hospice of Dubuque, she said, are Medicare beneficiaries.
According to the study, Dubuque in 2010 had the second lowest percentage in the nation of Medicare beneficiaries dying in hospitals, meaning an increasing number of people may be dying in more familiar places.
A large part of Dubuque's ranking may be thanks to Hospice of Dubuque.
"The goal is to provide that care wherever the patient calls home," Noel said. "People want to be at home. They want to be in familiar surroundings with their loved ones, with the things that are comfortable and familiar to them."
For Deanna Ploessl, remember her father's last days is bittersweet.
"We had found out that he had terminal cancer, and it was the most awful, beautiful time of our lives with him," she said.
Her dad, Donny Ploessl, died several years ago of lung cancer, but thanks to Hospice of Dubuque, he got to spend his final weeks in the comfort of home.
"There are some moments that there's no way they could've happened if he had been stuck in a hospital," Ploessl said. "Granted, I know there are some cases where there's not a lot of choice in that, but we were so fortunate to be able to do it our way with Hospice's assistance."
Another way Hospice of Dubuque is helping keep end-of-life care costs low is by using equipment, such as walkers and wheelchairs, donated by the community and by families of people who have gone through the hospice experience.
"We take it for granted. You know, I didn't think anything of it until we needed it, and when we needed it, they were there without question," Ploessl said.
Noel said she thinks part of Dubuque's low costs of end-of-life care also comes from the way in which the area's medical providers and hospice work together to give patients the best and most efficient care possible.
Dubuque, however, isn't alone in low Medicare costs in the last to years of a beneficiary's life. The 20 cities nationwide in 2010 with the lowest costs in that category include Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.
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