Photo: Members of the Gilchrist Palliative Care Team.
Even during a public health crisis, hospice and palliative care professionals rise to the challenge of providing compassionate, person-centered care in the community. Gilchrist (based in Hunt Valley, Maryland) shares how the many members of their interdisciplinary team support each other and their community in times of need.
The way our teams at Gilchrist deliver care is much different today than a few months ago. There are fewer in-person visits and more virtual ones, and those used to offering a hug or a comforting touch must offer only words instead.
In addition to their usual care, our staff now have the added responsibility of addressing families’ fear and uncertainty. The work is difficult, but they are pushing past the challenges to do what they are trained to do. Here are just a few of our many Faces of Caring.
Palliative Care for COVID+ Patients
Since March, our palliative care nurse practitioners have been working day in and day out with the COVID-positive nursing home population. They help the residents and their families cope with the illness and the associated losses, as well as their symptoms. They also facilitate difficult and often sad conversations, ultimately helping patients set their goals of care and weigh their medical decisions.
Hospice for COVID+ Patients
Our nurses are continuing to provide vital hospice care to patients and families in their homes, including those with COVID-19. To ensure the safety of both the clinician and the family, a “safety buddy” accompanies each nurse visiting a COVID-19 patient. The safety buddy nurse helps ensure safe and correct donning and doffing of the other nurses’ PPE.
Inpatient COVID Unit
In addition, Gilchrist opened the only COVID-19 dedicated inpatient hospice unit in Maryland, providing patients with an alternative to a hospital death. This allows patients to die with a loved one by their side while our teams care for their medical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“We are here because our patients need us, and because we made a promise, as nurses, to show up in their time of greatest need,” said Kristin Metzger, a hospice nurse on the unit.
Hope Through Music
Although the COVID pandemic brings much anxiety, uncertainty, fear and confusion, for some, it offers unexpected opportunities. For one Gilchrist Kids family, music therapy helped two sisters bond with one another and create a unique “soundtrack.” While isolated at home after schools closed, big sister Sarah became a regular part of her sister Amanda’s music therapy sessions. And so, with the help of the music therapist (and mom and dad), these two sisters recorded favorite songs, piano improvisations, and original music written about everyday life. Now, they will have a memory of 2020 that is filled with love, hope and joy.
Virtual Grief Counseling
Like every other team, grief counselors have shifted to offering virtual services, including grief telehealth by phone or video. They also have organized online virtual support groups and created a Facebook group designed to offer education, support and reassurance to bereaved as they mourn and heal.
Determined to Rise Above
The pandemic has brought out the best in people determined to rise above. Team members have stepped up to overcome challenges they never had to face before. Social worker Kerry Riggs sums up the collective feeling of many at Gilchrist: “Working on the emotional frontlines for families of patients, this has been some of the most challenging, exhausting and also rewarding work of my 24-year career,” she said. “I can’t wait until the time when I can offer a comforting touch or hug to our patients and their families.”
This article was originally published on the NHPCO Blog. If you would like to share the creative ways your hospice and palliative care team is caring for patients amid the COVID-19 crisis, please send NHPCO your photos and stories to be considered for inclusion in the #hapcFacesOfCaring campaign.