Hospices of Hope US

Find out about our charity partners in the USA and the work they are doing fundraising for our work providing palliative care services and hospices in Romania, Serbia, Moldova and Albania

Visit BELhospice's Website

Serbia - BELhospice

Our country partner in Serbia is BELhospice. Serbia has the highest cancer mortality rate in Europe, and our country partners in Serbia are the only charity providing free hospice care to terminally ill cancer patients. BELhospice was founded by Dr Natasa Milicevi in 2004 and since then has cared for more than 1,750 patients. It's aim is to provide hospice care according to standards set by the World Health Organisation and the European Council.

It is difficult for medical charities to receive state funding and authorization in Serbia. In 2017 BELhospice's home care service was officially recognized by the government and the service is now licensed. This is a major step and acknowledged the international standard of the services provided by the team. 

The Team

BELhospice has a multidisciplinary team with doctors, nurses, a social worker, psychologist and spiritual coordinator. 


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Services

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Serbia. There are more than 30,000 new diagnoses a year and over 20,000 cancer related deaths every year. There are concerns that the mortality rate may continue to accelerate - possibly as a legacy from the years of conflict. We know that approximately one third of terminally ill cancer patients die in Serbian hospitals. Some of those facilities have good quality hospice care units but many do not. We believe the remaining two thirds (more than an estimated 13,000 a year) are simply sent home to die in pain. 

Home visits

Until 2018 when Phase 1 of the new hospice center was opened, the care offered in Serbia was through home visits and telephone consultations.

Official Opening Ceremony, Phase 1 of the Hospice Center

In 2015, 256 patients were cared for by BELhospice. Care was given through home care services with 1,613 visits made by the medical teams and 3,916 phone consultations made. 

In 2018, Phase 1 of the new hospice center was opened and when fully operational, two new services will be introduced - an out-patient unit and a day-care center. The number of home care visits will also be increased.

Day care center

Hospice day care is a completely new concept in Serbia. It gives patients the opportunity to meet socially, receive help with their medical needs and participate in activities which help to improve their well being. The Day Care Center includes a beauty and hairdressing salon, a physiotherapy/massage room, a large day room for various kinds of activities and therapies, a gallery to sell crafts that have been made in the day center, a dining area, treatment rooms, a quiet room and an assisted bathroom. 

Out-patient unit

Once established this clinic will offer treatment for conditions like lymphedema.

Spiritual Advisers

We are a Christian-based organisation and care for people of all faiths, or none, encouraged by God's love for us and motivated by Christ's words "I was sick and you visited me". As part of our work we offer spiritual care to our patients. In Serbia we have two spiritual advisers, Katarina and Jovan. Katarina talks about Angelina - a patient who suffered from both psychiatric illness and cancer.

"I have been involved with Angelina on and off since I first started working. More recently, spiritual care became important to her as she experienced a sense of peace after having received a prayer in one of our workshops when she was very tearful. Spiritual care has been affirming to her a sense of spirituality she has already developed a prayer life which she wouldn't have identified as one. She is interested to hear of God who loves her, and is always very expectant to receive a prayer with a pure receiving faith"


Training in Serbia

One of BELhospice's aims is to educate professionals in hospice care. With our help it set up the Prue Dufour Education Center and has run accredited continuing medical education courses which have been attended by more than 200 healthcare professionals. BELhospice worked with the Serbian Ministry of Health to produce a national strategy for hospice care in Serbia. As part of the implementation of that project 96 different education and training courses were provided by BELhospice and 1,239 medical professionals attended these courses. 

Courses are multi-disciplinary and include elements of training on psychological, social care and spiritual support. BELhospice has produced 2 presentations - one on the background to hospice care and the second on the management of chronic pain - which have been seen by more than 1,500 medical professionals. 

Members of the team regularly lecture at Belgrade's School of Medicine and the national nursing college.


Volunteers in Serbia

More than 100 trained volunteers help with BELhospice's activities including fundraising and patient care. One of the major issues facing terminal cancer sufferers is social isolation so our volunteers will often spend time visiting patients at home or taking them out on social trips such as shopping, to church or to cafes and restaurants. The Norwegian government provided funding to train volunteers and 27 volunteers completed their training course. 

Feedback from a patient's family

"While we were fighting a hard and unjust battle, you were always with us. Your help and your advice meant a lot to us, allowing us never to give up. Strahinja was proud to know you. He loved spending time with your volunteers, because they were the only ones who didn't let him down until the very end. Now that Strahinja is among the angels, we are sure that he is protecting you with his most beautiful smile."

And from one of the volunteers who cared for Strahinja

"I would like to thank you/our organization for giving me a year of pure enrichment of the soul by helping the ones in need. I am very grateful for the opportunity to help one extraordinary human being such as Strahinja, who thought me and inspired me so much. 

Thanks to him and other lovely volunteers, I became stronger, more mature and more able to handle my own problems. Because of him, my wish to help others, even if it’s just a smile, became much bigger and it still grows. I am still in touch with his mom Goca and I am planning to visit her when I come to Belgrade.

Thank you for giving me a chance to be a member of your organization which is truly purposeful and noble and is providing so many services and every service is colored by the beauty of living. Thank you for believing in life and its luster until the last moment. Thank you for celebrating life with Strahinja in the times when he was not able even to hear us anymore.

I will always be proud for being a part of such an organization and I hope that I will be more active in the future. Thank you from my heart!"


Lobbying in Serbia

Hospices of Hope and BELhospice worked closely with the Ministry of Health in Serbia to develop and introduce a National Strategy on Palliative Care which was a significant advance in end of life care in Serbia. This was followed by a project with the Ministry of Health and funded by the European Union called the "Development of Palliative Care Services in the Republic of Serbia" which we helped implement. The project included the establishment of the Center for the Development of Palliative Care as well as development of programs for undergraduate and postgraduate course in medical schools and similar organisations.


Projects

Noway Project

The royal Norwegian Embassy supports BELhospice through its “Strengthening Civil Society” project. It gave BELhospice a grant of 62,624 euros. This has been used in part to fund Phase 1 of the new hospice center– but also to increase the number of patients and their families receiving care at home. The grant is also being used to educate medical professionals working in the state hospitals and for staff training and recruitment. 27 new hospice volunteers were trained through this scheme. 


Stories

Bojana - a nurse working for BELhospice

I've been working for BELhospice for over 12 years now. When I started it was very difficult for me. Working with terminally ill cancer patients whose only prognosis is death was very hard for a young person and for me professionally.

But I realized that hospice care is not about curing but about caring, easing pain and suffering and offering dignity. By understanding this, I managed to overcome my concerns and help my patients. I also care for their families who have to cope with the terrible impact of terminal illness. By visiting the homes of patients, day by day, I understood that every person is unique and no matter how much I have thought that I haven’t done enough for the patient and the family, thinking that I may have made a mistake, it was always in my mind that in palliative medicine, there cannot be such a sentence as “there is nothing else to be done”, because we always keep asking ourselves “what else can we do for this patient and their family”. To a patient, eye contact, a gesture followed by words or just a touch of affection, are often necessary.

I realized that the most important thing is to build strong trust between the patient and their family, and the BELhospice team. In the end, I can only say that I am proud of myself, of my role at BELhospice, and that my work with these people has made me a better person who values life more.

Bojana with a patient


A Daughter's Letter

When I contacted BELhospice, my mother had already been fighting breast cancer for 5 years. Having worked as a clinical doctor, I knew what she was going through, and I was anticipating the hardship that awaited my entire family and felt the burden because I wasn't ready to be my mother's doctor. Having turned to running as a stress reliever, I found out about BELhospice activities through running websites and followed their work knowing that my family would be in need of such help.

During the first visit, it was easy to assess, as a doctor, that the medical team had a great level of competence but what meant the most was their approach not only to my mother but to our entire family. For the first time in five years someone took the time to talk to us about everything, about what was happening and would happen in the future and it helped us deal with it.

As my mother's health worsened, contact with BELhospice intensified and I met the entire medical team as well as the social worker. As I tried to deal with my mother's illness I turned to psychotherapy sessions but two talks with BELhospice's social worker helped me more. Things I previously wasn't able to talk about were easy to say to people who truly understood what I was talking about and who knew exactly what to say and what to ask.


A Daughter's Story

The BELhospice team recently received a letter from the daughter of a patient.  The letter meant a lot to the team who cared for her father. The daughter is a film director and is used to dealing with personal tragedies as her work concentrated on socially marginalized groups on the streets in Belgrade and New York. But she found herself fighting a major battle when her father was diagnosed with brain cancer. She struggled to get an explanation from the doctor treating her father in a state hospital as to what his diagnosis meant.

Once her father was discharged from hospital she and her mother decided to care for him themselves.  They heard about BELhospice and the team came to visit. The father was really impressed with the kindness and energy of the medical team and the daughter felt that he was being treated as an individual and that,

"Someone was concerned for him in the same way the daughter cared about the people she featured in her documentaries"

Every time there was an emergency the team from BELhospice attended immediately. On a practical level BELhospice helped with the purchase of a special mattress for bedsores. Without this the father would have suffered from open sores.     

But BELhospice also helped with the emotional distress of the family. The daughter was struggling to cope with the diagnosis. One of the members of the team helped her work through this, and explained what is important for people with terminal illness to hear before their death. With this help the daughter sat by her father’s bedside and told him how he had inspired her and taught her everything in life that had made her a good person. The father woke up and gave her a look of love. She said in her letter that that look meant everything to her and her mother. 

The daughter noted that her family live in a country where cancer is out of control – she described it as an epidemic. She said that,

"A sick person and their family need support such as that given by BELhospice. It gives hope to see the staff's smiles, energy, advice and assistance. BELhospice recognizes what people need at the end of their life. I hope that the BELhospice will continue to help people and I have endless thanks."