Pandemic stress sparks rise in suicidal thoughts among hospice patients

Categories: Care.

JourneyCare responds with effective new screenings & tools

GLENVIEW, Ill. – As we learn more about the devastating toll of COVID-19, the effects are sometimes unexpected. For the clinicians at Glenview-based JourneyCare hospice, they discovered a rare challenge: a rise in hospice patients facing the end of their lives due to illness, yet considering suicide.

“During COVID-19 we really saw a lot of social isolation that put people in that gray zone verbalizing that they wanted to die or even commit suicide,” Dawn Futris, JourneyCare Quality Improvement Director and Registered Nurse, said. “And we knew we weren’t alone, because we were hearing about this from colleagues at professional meetings. This was hitting other hospices.”

JourneyCare quickly engaged clinicians and doctors, social workers, chaplains and its quality team to identify those patients who were struggling with what is clinically called “suicidal ideation” and how to best address this need.

Ultimately, they integrated a new series of screenings, enhanced intervention training for staff, and optimized clinical documentation – all applied to ensure patients expressing suicidal thoughts receive support that addresses the root cause of their feelings. The JourneyCare team presented their new tools and methods at the Netsmart Connections Conference in June 2021 and at the Illinois Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s annual conference this month.

“Suicide is 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with hospice population at higher risk,” Futris says. “We have built new tools to identify suicide risk, to make our staff comfortable identifying it and knowing what interventions to take based on each patient’s risk level, even if that means calling 911.”

The JourneyCare team is also routinely reviewing case studies as part of their training and work. Among these is the case of a patient who attempted suicide after being prohibited family visits during a hospitalization and subsequent placement in a nursing facility at the height of COVID-19 restrictions.

By utilizing new screenings and interventions, along with existing resources such as JourneyCare’s inpatient Hospice CareCenters, the team was able to address the patient’s feelings, reconnect him with his family and ultimately allow him to experience a peaceful, natural death in hospice.

“I am really proud of how our staff looks at things differently now,” Futris says. “As a result, we have already started seeing some tremendous successes.”

About JourneyCare

JourneyCare is a nonprofit, community-based organization that provides care and support to families living with serious illness. With more than 40 years of healthcare leadership and expertise, JourneyCare has achieved national recognition for growth, innovation, community partnerships and best practices in caring for seriously ill adults and children.

JourneyCare is licensed to serve 13 counties in the Chicago region and is the largest provider of hospice and palliative care in Illinois. To learn more, visit

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