Through his work on a hospital committee that reviews the treatment of cancer patients, Dr. Dennis Koffer of Triangle East Surgery knows that some illnesses can’t be cured. And he’s come to appreciate hospice as an end-of-life solution.
So it wasn’t that much of a stretch when the general surgeon decided to put his name in the hat for the part-time job as medical director of Johnston Home Health & Hospice. He got the position and started in September.
“I support the idea of grace and dignity for the end of our lives,” Koffer said. “In a way, the position fits my personality because hospice is problem-solving in a definitive way. When we face a problem head on, then people suffer less.”
Koffer tells the story of an extended family member who lived in an upscale area near Philadelphia and needed inpatient hospice care. At the time, no such services were available in that area.
The experience made him appreciate the local decision and ensuing campaign to build the SECU Hospice House, which opened in June 2010 in Smithfield.
“I feel proud of our hospice service,” Koffer said. “The staff gets rave reviews, and families are always very positive about the hospice house. I think it’s one of the most successful things our hospital has been involved in.”
As medical director, Koffer will oversee the quality of care, and he will be part of the multidisciplinary team planning all aspects of the patient’s care. It’s his goal to meet all new patients and their families so they feel they’re getting a rounded service.
Caroline Hester, the administrative director who oversees home care and hospice, said Koffer has been eager to learn. “He brings a desire, a true heart for hospice,” she said. “He also has a great bedside manner and a calm demeanor, which is critical to the patient’s journey.”
Koffer describes his new role also as an advocate for Johnston Home Care & Hospice. He says he’s learning things he didn’t know about hospice, such as the Medicare provision for respite care. It allows a hospice patient being cared for at home to come to the hospice house for a period of five days so that his or her family caregiver can get a break. “That’s a great benefit,” he said.
Koffer said he looks forward to helping doctors and people in the community better understand the general concept of hospice and, in particular, how government and private insurers pay for the service.
“The most important thing is communicating so that expectations are met,” he added. “Families have to have a clear understanding of what hospice care means. They have to be ready for it.”
Koffer is a former chief of staff of Johnston Medical Center and has been a surgeon for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Gayle, who volunteers with hospice, live in Smithfield.