A Time to Change
On Our Own Terms - Moyers on Dying
Produced and Directed by Gail Pellett
Co-writers: Bill Moyers and Gail Pellett
Production Company: Public Affairs Television Inc
Presented by: Thirteen/WNET
Aired on: PBS     Date: 2000

Music is part of palliative care at Balm of Gilead

Four out of five Americans will die in a hospital.  Yet the care they need or want at end of life may not be available to the dying and their loved ones.

In this 90 min documentary, part of the PBS series, On Our Own Terms — Moyers on Dying, we witness an inspiring model for what health care could be for the dying and their families at an extraordinary public hospital unit in Birmingham, Alabama.

At the Balm of Gilead unit Moyers and his team  follow a pioneering group of professionals working to introduce the methods of hospice and palliative care medicine into the mainstream of health care.

We meet Dr. Amos Bailey, Director of Balm of Gilead, and his colleague, Edwina Taylor — a nurse of 29 years —  providing exceptional comfort care at the end of life — addressing not only the physical needs of the dying, but the emotional, spiritual and social needs.  “It’s such a powerful thing for them (the dying and their loved ones) to know that they have someone standing with them, that it’s okay to talk about dying,” says Taylor.

Dr. Amos Bailey and his colleague, Edwina Taylor

While we learn that every death takes its own course, and every family has its own issues, we learn about the sweat and work of these innovators in the trenches of our health care system.

Balm of Gilead provides palliative care in the hospital, but also works in tandem with Birmingham hospice to provide that care in the home.  And they are  pioneering hospice and palliative care at a local nursing home.

They are providing this care for the indigent, the working poor and the uninsured.  One third of Birmingham’s population lacked health care insurance when this documentary was made in 2000.

Bailey and his team are setting out to change the culture of care for the dying.  Meet Casandra Jackson, who drives the length and breadth of Jefferson County to visit her hospice patients at home.  We meet Willie Fred Davis who is dying of lung cancer, and his wife, Shirley who provides most of his care.  Mr. Davis has worked all his life, but no company provided health benefits.  Now he survives on a disability check of $821 a month.

Willie Fred Davis with Hospice nurse, Cassandra Jackson

The Balm of Gilead weaves a safety net around their patients, like Davis, through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, church donations, foundation grants and the taxpayer-supported indigent fund. Figuring out how to pay for this care takes as much creativity as the care they provide.  For more information go to the Moyers on Dying website:

Credits:  Editor:  Sharon Sachs; Field Producer:  Paco de Onis;  Associate Producer:  Valerie Linson; Camera:

Breaking News

Dr. Amos Bailey, the mastermind behind Balm of Gilead, moved on to run a palliative care program at the VA Hospital in Birmingham, called Safe Harbor. He writes to say that they have now created one of the largest clusters of palliative care -- all under the umbrella of University of Alabama/Birmingham -- in the country. But he fears that they have not made much impact on the general public's desire to take care of those in need...the "social contract" that he refers to in this documentary.

...the temperate sound of compassionate understanding that never treads roughshod on the boundaries of another's sorrow...Mr. Moyers brings to the harsh medium of television a level of humanity and truth that will leave few viewers unchanged...an extraordinary accomplishment.
Moyers tackles the subject of death, and the result is an elegy for the sick, raging against the dying of the light (and the ineptitude of the living). Pain, fear, choice, dignity, a death o one's own, and a friend against the night -- these are the deepest chords and On Our Own Terms touches all of them...without cant or condescension, without sentimentality or self-aggrandizement.
It's not ordinary television. Viewers will watch decent people -- real people- dwindle away on-screen. They may find, though, that those stories illuminate some dark places; they can show us how to stave off the chaos of terminal illness, for instance, and what's required for good end-of-life care.
...enlightening, absorbing and extremely moving...

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