the impact of COVID-19 on HOSPICE CARE

Greencastle, Indiana. COVID-19 has caused healthcare facilities and hospice providers to at least temporarily change their care practices. There are new limits on who can care for patients. New ways to care for patients. New ways to help families say goodbye. New ways to help people grieve. Lisa Miller, President of the Putnam County Hospice and Palliative Care Association, stated, “It is important for people to understand this new reality as they cope with serious illnesses.”

The hospice care tradition is to surround a dying patient with loving visitors and professionals, and to focus on pain management, comfort, and peace at the end of life. Hospice is meant to address not only physical care, but also the substantial emotional, social, and spiritual needs that arise as death approaches.

Hospice providers must now minimize visitations and utilize masks and gloves and other personal protection equipment. Visits to patients in long-term care facilities, where about a third of hospice patients reside, are limited. Before COVID-19, a team of professionals would see patients in nursing homes. Now, only nurses may visit, and the frequency of in-person visits are limited. Social work, chaplaincy, and other services are provided by phone. Visits by nurses to hospice patients in the home have also been limited and are augmented with phone and virtual contacts.

Another change during COVID-19 involves the days surrounding death. For those in hospice, the last days are traditionally filled with goodbyes. Now, instead of a goodbye in person, some are having to say goodbye through a phone call or virtually. This could be because there is limited visitation allowed or that someone cannot travel due to stay-at-home orders and other policies.

COVID-19 has complicated funerals, wakes, and other ways people grieve together. Experts say that social and emotional isolation can compound grief, and make it even more difficult to heal.

People who are grieving should try and stay connected to others as much as they can. Hospice provides support and grief services to surviving family members for up thirteen months after a loved one’s death.

Putnam County Hospice and Palliative Care Association (PCHPCA) is a nonprofit, charitable organization that has joined national, state, and community efforts to increase the quality of the end-of-life experience for patients, loved ones, caregivers, and the healthcare community in Putnam County. PCHPCA is partially supported by The Putnam County Community Foundation and the Putnam County Hospital. For additional information, contact Elaine Peck, Director, at epeck@pchosp.org or visit www.pchpca.org.

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