Hospice Care and Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ
The outbreak of COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and everything we once took for granted is rapidly changing and forcing us all to re-evaluate how we do things every day.
This is especially true for hospice care.
Recommendations and guidelines concerning the coronavirus seem to change regularly, which has led to numerous misunderstandings and no small amount of confusion.
At Precious Hospice, we are committed to providing the same loving and skilled care that we always have, and we want everyone to understand how the virus has impacted us, our services, and how we are responding to this new challenge.
This FAQ contains information and answers about our safety protocols for patients, families, and staff, as well as other issues relevant to home hospice during these difficult times.
Early on, hospice providers did not have much direct involvement with patients who had been diagnosed, but that situation quickly changed.
The hospice industry has since been greatly impacted by the world-wide situation and has had to change its procedures quickly. This is a service that requires one-on-one direct care, and extended periods of close contact, which meant we had to quickly adapt to minimize any risks.
Home hospice specialists are already skilled in providing care for the range of symptoms that are also common with the coronavirus. Our caregivers already treat fevers, shortness of breath, coughs, and even other symptoms that are only documented in small percentages of COVID-19 cases.
In other words, hospice specialists may be a great alternative for patients who would rather spend their days at home, rather than at a hospital.
Our staff – from physicians and nurses to social workers and volunteers – have all been trained to provide care for hospice-eligible patients who are suffering from COVID-19. Our mission is to provide loving care through life’s precious moments, regardless of the patients’ diagnosis.
Patients and their families should carefully discuss their option for care with our hospice team to make sure that all their goals, wishes, and intents are met.
We find that most patients near end of life would prefer to be at home, rather than at a hospital, and in most cases, this is fine.
Our specialists are able to provide the care they need in the place where they are most comfortable.
Whether the patient is stable or not, the potential that others in the house may be exposed to COVID-19 can be minimized. Home hospice is a valid option because we can come in and educate the family on safety protocols. Even if the patient has a condition that is strongly exacerbated by the virus it can still be effectively managed at home or with a transfer to a hospice inpatient unit.
This decision must also be made on a case-by-case basis. We will discuss your desires with the medical staff and infection control and prevention specialist to determine when, or if, this is a good option.
In a time when visitors are generally not allowed into these hospice inpatient units, we understand the desire to bring family members back home if at all possible.
The decision will depend on the severity of the disease, the patient’s condition, and the results of laboratory tests. You can get more details on the decision-making process at the CDC website here.
Not all patients with COVID-19 need to be hospitalized, but they will need to be isolated to contain the infection.
The CDC lists some specific criteria under which people who are in isolation at home can discontinue those precautions. The details and guidelines for making this decision can be found here, and our specialists will be there to help you understand the situation.
Our caregivers are extensively trained in managing pain and other symptoms that are commonly experienced by hospice-eligible patients.
The symptoms that are associated with COVID-19 – shortness of breath, fever, coughs – are things we have dealt with consistently over the years. We use a variety of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment methods to help our patients through this time while also doing everything possible to protect the caregiver and the family members in the home.
Every member of the precious Hospice team has been trained to follow all the prescribed safety precautions from the CDC, CMS, and any local state health departments in relation to the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE).
We also follow the established screening protocols to minimize the risks of infections all times and follow the rules and mandates laid out by any facilities in which we may visit.
If a loved one is receiving home hospice care, there are some precautions you could take to help reduce the risk of infection.
These are preventative measures, and they include:
We closely follow the guidelines set out by the CDC and CMS and regularly screen our patients for risk of coronavirus and do everything possible to minimize the risk of exposure for the patient, their families, and our staff.
The steps we take include regularly checking ourselves for fevers and watching out for any respiratory symptoms that could signify a potential risk. Every member of our team has been instructed to not work and seek medical attention if any such symptoms appear. (The same applies if they simply aren’t feeling well.)
During the outbreak, family members and close friend can continue to visit and provide care to patients who have not been exposed to COVID-19. However, extra precautions around the patients are certainly recommended.
For hospice patients with known or suspected COVID-19 who are receiving care in their homes, a number of important procedures should be followed in order to prevent and control infections.
The patient should remain at home and only go out to receive medical care. The patient should separate themselves from other people and animals in the home as much as possible and wear a facemask whenever possible.
For others in the home, the CDC recommends always covering coughs and sneezes and always immediately washing hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub. Do not share personal items (dishes, bedding, etc.) with family members with known or suspected COVID-19.
As a home hospice provider, we can help with some of the necessary supplies – barring any unforeseen shortages of personal protective equipment – so be sure to ask about how we can help the entire household during this time.
After following all necessary screening procedures for patients and visitors, the same will be done for hospice staff members and any volunteers.
Any healthcare providers showing any signs or symptoms will not report to work. If those symptoms develop while on the job, they will immediately stop work and begin self-isolation at home.
These members of the hospice team will then inform the right people at Precious Hospice and report information on the individuals, equipment, and locations in which they had contact.
Since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require facilities ensure that their residents can get the necessary end-of-life care, hospice agencies should have access to anyone in need.
Having said that, of course, it’s important to note that every facility will still have its own unique requirements for any visitors. So, if we are going to work with patients in these healthcare facilities, we will coordinate with them to make sure we can take care of the needs of our patients while respecting the needs of the facility.
While these facilities are expected to allow hospice caregivers into the facility, even during the pandemic, if the policy is to not allow family members to visit, then they cannot come in with our team member either.
However, we can help coordinate video calls with family members while we are there so you can speak to your loved one and get information directly from the hospice caregiver while they are together.
We are committed to following the guidelines as stated by the CDC and CMS and local health departments for all of our team members. This means we can still connect patients to our chaplains or social workers when necessary, though there may be some changes in how and when they visit.
For example, we may need to limit the number of people who visit someone in person to minimize the risk of exposure. Sometimes, it may be more effective to use video and other communication methods to provide support for our patients.
Absolutely. There are still a lot of great ways that volunteers can provide critical support functions – even if they’re doing it from home.
We are actively recruiting and training volunteers to make vitally important support calls to hospice patients and their families to offer any companionship and assistance they may need.
It seems like new developments are being announced every day, and while some of them are small, others will require us to re-examine our methods and procedures.
We actively evaluate these new developments constantly and base our decisions on the underlying data and the needs of our patients. We will factor in any known risk factors shown by these assessments so we can adjust our strategies to provide the best care possible in these difficult times.
While we have covered a great deal of information regarding COVID-19 and home hospice situations, we understand that there are likely many more questions regarding the virus in general.
We can recommend the following resources for learning more about the global pandemic and how it might affect you and your loved ones throughout these precious moments.