Terminal illness can greatly affect both patients and their families. According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health, “The effects of illness on family members are substantial and widespread, affecting areas of life as diverse as physical pain and ability to sustain social connections, and affect family caregivers as well as all members of all ages.” 1
Hospice care can help alleviate some of these issues by providing a safe and caring environment for patients to live out their final days, but there’s also an opportunity for providers to address broader concerns around hospice stays and end-of-life by connecting family members with hospice support groups that offer consistent and continuing care. Here’s how.
Provide the Opportunity for Honest Conversations Around Hospice Stays
One of the biggest challenges for family members with loved ones in care is uncertainty about what hospice stays entail — from the methods used to keep patients comfortable to the treatment options as the condition progresses. In many cases, however, family members aren’t sure who to talk to or where to ask questions about care.
Hospices can help ease these feelings by providing the opportunity for family members to have honest conversations about their concerns. Equipped with information about patient histories, prognosis, and care plans, family members can feel more informed and educated about the hospice experience.
Create Hospice Support Groups for Emerging Grief
Grief can be a natural response to having a loved one in hospice, but everyone’s journey with grief is different. For some, grief begins with hospice admissions; others see grief emerge as patients get closer to end-of-life. In either case, hospice grief counseling groups can help family members better understand how they’re feeling and how to navigate these feelings.
Consider recent guidelines from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), which recommends that hospice support groups and interdisciplinary groups (IDGs) both facilitate communication between family members and patients as end-of-life approaches.2 In addition, support team members can help identify areas of conversation for end-of-life discussions that could help facilitate connection and reconciliation, in turn providing a way for families to effectively work through emerging grief.
Deliver Hospice Grief Counseling That Continues Over Time
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), hospice bereavement services include “emotional, psychological, and spiritual support” and must be provided to family members for a minimum of 13 months after patients’ end-of-life.3
Where possible, however, it’s worth providing care that continues beyond the minimum to provide family members with a sense of closure around their loved one’s death. This could take the form of regular meetings that include multiple families and encourage them to express their emotions around loss and grief, or it could mean occasional follow-ups by hospice staff to check in and see how family members are doing. No matter the form, the focus remains the same: to provide continuing support for those who have lost the ones they love.
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1 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “How Illness Affects Family Members: A Qualitative Interview Survey,” December 1, 2014.
2 National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHCPO), “Standards of Practice for Hospice Programs,” 2018.
3 Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “State Operations Manual,” February 21, 2020.