What Happens in Hospice When Family is Unavailable?


BY: Laurie Henrichsen
Above, Pat Ferry, with her Teacup Poodle, Casey of the Western Reserve, is a knowledgeable advocate and a generous caregiver for friends and neighbors who are coping with serious illness.

Pat Ferry Steps Up to Provide Care for Three Friends

Some would say Pat Ferry’s upbringing and career perfectly groomed her for a part she had no idea she would play: the role of a caregiver and healthcare advocate for three friends.   

I am meeting Pat on a beautiful afternoon in her light-filled University Circle apartment. A dazzling array of exotic orchids are in full bloom on her windowsills. The historic building is not far from Case Western Reserve University, where Pat enjoyed a successful career as executive assistant to the director at the Hearing and Speech Center for 12 years, administrator at the Law School for 13 years, followed by administrator in Medical Education at the medical school for seven years. We are joined by her Teacup Poodle companion, Casey of the Western Reserve, named for her former employer.  

As her story begins to unfold, I am struck by three things: Pat’s no-nonsense approach, her tenacity and her genuine desire to care for others.   

A Fulfilling Professional Career

Pat, who grew up in Kent, Ohio credits her parents for encouraging her to be independent, confident and resolute in achieving her goals in an era where society often made it challenging for women to have a significant impact. “I was blessed to have wonderful parents,” she says. “My dad had his own business and I was the ‘son’ he never had. I might have wished I was born a few years later.”       

After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in psychology and sociology, Pat embarked on a long professional career in the academic sector that allowed her to use her sharp intellect and problem-solving skills on a daily basis. “I always had a job that was a full-fledged, full-blast go,” she says with a smile.

Pat’s resourcefulness would be put to the test in a very personal way soon after her retirement, when her close friend and former CWRU colleague, Joyce, developed cancer.

A Life-Long Friendship

Joyce’s husband had died shortly before Joyce retired from her 50-year employment at the University. Ultimately, the two friends moved into the same building in Shaker Heights, eventually even rooming together in Pat’s suite while Joyce’s apartment was undergoing renovations.

“Joyce knew she had cancer when she retired," Pat says. "Several months after she had recovered from a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, a follow-up visit to her oncologist revealed that the cancer had metastasized to her liver. She agreed to participate in a clinical trial and showed some early improvement." With the oncologist’s blessing, the two friends decided to take a trip to Arizona. While they were there, Joyce became ill.  

Knowing When and How to Ask For Assistance

The women returned to Cleveland, and Pat called the oncologist, who confirmed malignant lesions in Joyce’s brain and recommended contacting Hospice of the Western Reserve. It was at this point that Ruth, a neighbor and friend of both women, volunteered to move in to assist when needed.

“I knew that to keep Joyce home, we needed the professional help the oncologist recommended,” Pat says. “The hospice team did everything and anything from providing equipment to providing care. They were there five days a week. They showed me how to set up the bed so we could roll and reposition Joyce. They changed the sheets and bathed her. Whenever I called, there were no delays.”

Although Joyce had a large family, they did not choose to be directly involved in daily caregiving. Pat consulted with Joyce’s stepson, Wayne, who was willing to step in to help on short notice.

“The day arrived when we knew Joyce’s days were winding down fast,” Pat says. “She was weaker. She sounded like she was breathing through mud.” She called Hospice of the Western Reserve. The nurse arrived and repositioned Joyce to provide relief and gave Pat guidance on administering medications so her friend would be comfortable around the clock. 

One of Pat’s biggest challenges involved the delicate task of coping with extended visits from multiple members of Joyce’s large family. She knew her friend well enough to realize Joyce was craving peace and solitude. She was able to persuade the family members to keep their visits short to honor Joyce’s wishes and lessen her anxiety.

Helping Her Friend Say Good-Bye

“Joyce wafted in and out of consciousness toward the end,” Pat says. “The nurse gave her an injection and it helped her to be right on.” I thought to myself, “She’s alert. Should I arrange to have her friends visit now?”

Pat quickly went to work contacting Joyce’s friends and former colleagues from their days at the university. Joyce remained lucid during that brief window of time. She knew all of her visitors and greeted each one by name. The next day Joyce was no longer coherent, and Pat knew she did not have much time left. “A few nights later, Joyce died in my arms as we were preparing to give her a pain medication,” she says.  It was a peaceful end for a dear friend, her family and friends.

Pat called Hospice of the Western Reserve and Joyce’s family and stepson to notify them of her passing. “The nurse came and made sure that Ruth, Wayne and I were okay. She called the funeral home and sat with us for a while, just chatting and drinking coffee.”

Keeping an Eye Out for Others 

Joyce would not be the only friend to benefit from Pat’s caring nature. Another friend, Kay, was coping with heart failure, frequent bouts of depression and bipolar disorder. Kay remained passive and was unable to resolve a myriad of legal, medical and safety issues that confronted her. Kay had no family members living in Ohio and had recently lost her long-time housemate who had moved to Arizona to be with her parents.  Kay appointed Pat as her Health Care Power of Attorney and Durable Power of Attorney when her housemate moved. 

With the help of a neighborhood couple and input from one of Kay’s physicians, Pat helped Kay move into an assisted living facility which could provide the help Kay needed on a daily basis. Eventually, when Kay needed more care, she was moved to Judson’s nursing facility where she was able to have hospice care the last few months of her life.   

Pat continues to have a servant’s heart and to support friends as they navigate life’s transitions. She expresses concern about another friend, who is reluctant to ask for help. “Sometimes it’s hard for friends to ask for help when they need it,” she says. “But I will help her. I never throw in the towel.” 

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