Hospice workers are fueled by and filled with purpose when they get feedback—whether through CAHPS surveys, public reviews, or even being stopped in the grocery store by a family caregiver—that they are making a difference to the families of their patients by providing them with excellent bereavement care.
However, hospice agencies are often limited by their own capacity in the support they are able to offer grievers. As grief is a lifelong process that is highly multidimensional in nature, a hospice agency may find that the best support it is able to give a grieving family caregiver is a referral to an outside organization that can be trusted to deliver tailored support focused on their individual needs.
Empathy has created just such a solution, an app that hospices around the country can use to help provide comprehensive, compassionate, and holistic bereavement care.
Hospices in the US are bound by Medicare’s Conditions of Participation (COPs), which mandate quality care for all hospice patients. The COPs outline a framework for safety and health that all hospices are required to meet in relation to patient care, organizational processes, and continuous quality improvement efforts. These requirements must be followed in order for a hospice organization to receive reimbursement from Medicare for its services.
These conditions also provide guidance on the support that must be provided to a patient’s loved ones following their death. Hospice organizations are required to provide bereavement support for no less than 13 months to an identified “primary bereaved” of every patient who dies in hospice. The quality and depth of support offered, however, is left up to the individual hospice agency. The depth of care provided by hospices, therefore, can range from a condolence mailing sent after the patient dies to comprehensive grief support tailored to the diverse needs of each person.
Because this care is provided after the death of the patient, Medicare does not pay hospices to deliver bereavement support, which means that it is often seen as an unrecuperated cost for the business. Ultimately, the depth and quality of grief support provided depends on each organization’s buy-in and understanding of the need for quality care following the death of a loved one.
The CoPs state that care should be made available not only to the primary bereaved, but also to any additional individuals listed on the initial plan of care, and that bereavement support should be individualized based on each person’s needs. While in theory this seems simple, in reality every individual’s needs in grief are highly varied and require a professional who is adequately trained in providing grief care based on the latest strategies and evidence.
Unfortunately, such professionals are hard to find, difficult to train, and expensive to keep. Often, what happens instead is that the Bereavement team consists of a sprinkling of staff from various departments with additional time to fill, such as Spiritual Care and Social Work, resulting in a team that lacks the proper preparation to assess and deliver the appropriate services to hundreds, if not thousands, of bereaved individuals each year.
When there is a lack of trained grief professionals on staff, the care often just meets the minimum requirement, which does not provide truly individualized grief support. Roughly 70% of grievers will have a typical grief process, meaning that they will appreciate a call from someone from the hospice agency and an occasional mailing. However, 30% of grievers need a higher intervention such as monthly supportive mailings, grief support groups, and potentially one-on-one grief support or grief therapy.
There are many reasons that it is a good idea for hospices to invest in quality grief care for their patients’ families, but in terms of the impact on hospice agencies, the most significant is the softer grief process the bereaved go through when they receive care that does more than just follow Medicare CoP guidelines, and the higher CAHPS scores a hospice can expect to receive as a result.
Minimum bereavement care based on COPs has been shown to be a cause of lowered overall satisfaction with hospice service. According to Hospicetools.com in 2021, lackluster bereavement care from the hospice organization is one of the top ten factors with a negative impact on CAHPS scores. As a result, many hospices are searching for solutions that are both individualized and cost-effective.
Where hospice care must end, Empathy is able to pick up the baton and meet the bereaved where they are, through its uniquely supportive, personalized platform. By partnering with hospice and bereavement professionals, Empathy wants to provide a continuity of care that allows a griever to feel supported throughout the grief process.
As a bereaved individual finds emotional relief following the death of a loved one, additional needs often arise. With these varied needs of the bereaved in mind, Empathy gives expert-level care to grievers not only for grief, but in whatever practical capacity they require, including assistance with immediate arrangements, funeral planning, wills, assets and property, taxes, benefits, locating documents, dealing with other loved one’s home and personal belongings. This holistic support ensures that the bereaved feel cared for and understood, which in turn makes them satisfied that they are being looked after by the care organization.
My mom wasn’t just my mom. She was my best friend. But when I went to write her obituary, I froze. I felt like I was letting her down. In my grief, the words just didn’t come. The Care Specialist brainstormed with me, getting me to talk about my mom: her favorite holiday traditions, her prized possessions (she loved her Aerosmith concert tees). Then she walked me through an obituary writing tool and showed me how to invite family members to collaborate — I started writing and writing. I was so exhausted, and so relieved. And it was all on the page, everything that made mom so unforgettable.