Getting to Know the Hospice Team
Guest blog for The Denver Hospice
By Karen Wyatt MD
If you or a loved one are enrolling in hospice for care through the end of life it is helpful for you to be familiar with the group of providers who will be working with you. Hospice is a unique form of healthcare that focuses on care for the whole person—body, mind and spirit. To provide this extraordinary level of care requires a team of highly trained individuals, who will be available to you if you wish to receive their support during your time with hospice.
The members of this special team play different roles in patient care and all of them meet and confer together to create an overall plan that makes sure that none of the patient’s needs are overlooked or neglected. Here are the members of the hospice team and the type of care they each provide:
The nurse serves as case manager for the patient, assessing the needs of the patient during visits that take place weekly or more frequently, as needed. The nurse is responsible for making sure that the goals of care are being met and communicates with the doctor and other team members to make any needed adjustments in care and symptom management. The hospice will have a nurse on-call on evenings and weekends who can answer your questions and respond to any emergencies.
While your own doctor can continue to be involved in your care, the hospice will also provide a physician with special training in pain and symptom management. This doctor will be responsible for certifying that you are eligible for hospice care, prescribing any needed medications or treatments, supporting the other team members, and participating in decision-making and team meetings. The hospice nurse communicates regularly with the doctor to make important decisions about medical care for each patient.
The home health aide provides essential help with personal care needs like bathing, dressing and grooming. They also teach family members safe practices for tending to their loved one and can assist with light household tasks if needed. The aide may visit several times a week and often becomes one of the favorite team members for patients and their families. Home health aides are described as the “unsung heroes” of hospice care because their hands-on work brings tremendous comfort and wellbeing to the people they serve.
Hospice social workers play many different roles in service of patient care. They help patients and families plan ahead for the end of life, assess and manage the emotional and psychological welfare of the patient, provide information regarding financial and caregiving support, and connect patients and families with community resources. You may see a social worker once or many times during your experience with hospice depending on the specific needs of your family.
The role of the hospice chaplain is to assist with the spiritual needs of the patient, whether or not the patient has any religious affiliation or beliefs. Chaplains are trained to provide non-denominational care and to help patients prepare for the end of life by finding meaning and value in life itself. They can offer patients and families tools for coping with loss and grief, as well as resolving some of the unfinished issues of life. Often chaplains provide bereavement services for the family after their loved one has died.
The hospice volunteer is one of the most special members of the team. Volunteers are often assigned to patients with whom they have something in common so that a natural and comfortable bond can form. The volunteer can serve as a companion for the patient, talking or reading or playing music, which gives family caregivers an opportunity for a brief respite. They might also assist by running errands or helping with light tasks around the house. Volunteers receive special training to do this work and are an essential source of support for patients and families.
There is no other system of medical care that offers such comprehensive and inclusive support as that given by the hospice team. You will be able to utilize as much or as little care as you prefer, but it’s important to know that each member of the team plays a special and unique role that offers essential benefits. Hospice team-based care has been described as “the best care possible” for those facing the end of life and now you can see why that is true.