A passion for elder care has taken one Tulsan around the world and back.
Rupal Parekh works in hospice care at RoseRock Healthcare in Tulsa. In 1999, Parekh spent nearly a year working at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta, India.
Long before she graduated from Union High School and the University of Oklahoma, the foundation of Rupal Parekh’s career was in place. Growing up in a south Asian home, respect for the elderly was part of her cultural upbringing. Her father arranged for Parekh to volunteer in a nursing home when she was 13.
“School is important,” she recalls him saying, “but real life is learning peoples’ stories.”
In 1999, Parekh spent 11 months working at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta, India. She went on to work in west Africa and Vietnam before earning two master’s degrees in public health and social work from Columbia University.
Parekh returned to Tulsa two years ago to be near her family and work in hospice care at RoseRock Healthcare.
How did your time abroad prepare you for your current work?
I think it’s fair to say that I saw some of the most difficult parts of India. We were on the streets looking for people who needed emergency care. We provided food, shelter and jobs whenever possible. But it was mostly relief care for people in the most dire situations.
Working in India was a stepping stone, but now I’ve come full circle. I’ve always worked with an elderly population, but in hospice ... I’m back with the most vulnerable patients and their families.
What does your job as a social worker entail?
I explain the benefits of hospice to a person who is considering our care. Then, I talk to our interdisciplinary team. I’ll tell them (the patient) really liked, for example, a certain type of music when she was young. Then, we try to incorporate that back into her life because, why not? If we can provide individualized care, we try to.
We also let the family know we are there for them. Hospice doesn’t necessarily end when your loved one passes. It has been different in other places I’ve worked, but here we are free to really have relationships with people. At that stage, you need intimate relationships.
What myths about hospice would you like to correct?
Whatever home is to people, whether it’s a nursing home, assisted living or a personal residence, we provide services there. People may think hospice is only the last few days of a person’s life, but patients remain on hospice as long as they are eligible. Hospice doesn’t necessarily mean that the patient will pass immediately; the goal is just to make the quality of life better.
Also, a lot of people think hospice is only for cancer patients (that’s how the benefit began), but we serve patients with a variety of terminal illnesses.
Many of us struggle to know what to say to someone who has experienced loss. In your opinion, what does the spouse, child or parent need to hear?
I think, in general, people just want to you listen, not even necessarily to understand. At RoseRock we ask, “How do we honor your father?” “How do we honor your wife?” That’s huge.