In an article, “Short on Staff, Some Hospices Ask New Patients to Wait,” published by The New York Times, journalist Paula Span writes about challenges that staffing shortages are causing for hospice programs across the country.
Highlights from the article include:
- … Hospice staff shortages have developed across the country, and while closing to new patients is not a common response, “it’s getting worse,” said Edo Banach, the president and chief executive of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “If this goes on much longer, it’s going to happen more.”
- In a stressed health care system, some routine procedures or elective surgeries can be deferred without much harm. But more than half of the 2.3 million Medicare beneficiaries who die annually rely on hospice care, Medicare reported.
- … Because many put off enrolling—American patients spend only a median of 18 days in hospice—even short waits can mean the loss of valuable care, from pain relief to help with household tasks. “It causes huge distress to tell a family, ‘We can’t serve you,’” said Barbara Hansen, who directs Oregon’s and Washington’s state hospice and palliative care organizations.
- The Center for Hospice Care in northern Indiana, which serves about 2,000 patients annually, has not had to turn away patients. But the smaller of its two inpatient units, a seven-bed hospice in Elkhart, has remained closed since July because of inadequate staff. The Center had planned to reopen it on Oct. 1, but a newly hired nurse left, so the unit remains unavailable. “I keep thinking it’s going to get better,” said Mark Murray, the Center’s president and chief executive.
- … Many hospices are trying to recruit staff with signing bonuses; on the high end, EvergreenHealth Hospice Care in Seattle is offering $15,000 for registered nurses and $5,000 for licensed practical nurses.
- … The shortage, hospice administrators say, stems partly from an exhausted staff who visited patients’ homes through the worst of the pandemic, wearing full protective gear (once they could acquire it).
- … Staff shortages also reflect economic pressures. Hospice nurses typically earn less than those employed by hospitals or traveling nurse agencies, which have raised their wages and bonuses as they also face a pandemic-related lack of nurses.
- … Vaccination resistance is also shrinking hospice staffs in states—roughly 20, according to Leading Age, which represents nonprofit senior care providers—that mandate shots for health care workers.
Journalist Paula Span writes The New Old Age column that focuses on aging and related issues for The New York Times.
This article is available on The New York Times website and was published in the print edition on October 19, 2021.