THE STRAIN OF COVID-19 ON HOSPICE CARE
The strain of COVID-19 on Hospice Care
Comfort, touch, togetherness: these are among the key elements of hospice care; the kind of care offered at the end of one’s life. Yet these principles are in direct contrast to the distance and separation asked of us during the COVID -19 pandemic.
Overstrand Hospice provides care and support to patients and their families diagnosed with a life-threatening illness (end-stage care), and as such remains an essential aspect of medical care.
The hospice care tradition is to provide holistic care to patients, focusing care on pain management, comfort and peace at the end of life. Hospice is meant to address not only physical care, but also the substantial emotional, social and spiritual needs that may arise through the illness process.
With the aggressive spread of COVID-19 across our communities, our care team have had to reduce visitations and increase protective measures for all direct patient contacts; wearing masks, aprons and gloves are mandatory. The necessary protective equipment can create a barrier to the closeness and intimacy most patients need and find re-assuring through the progression of a serious illness.
The coronavirus’ impact on hospice care extends beyond care providers adjusting their approach to care, and patients and their families adjusting to new hospice realities. Patient and families too are anxious about receiving visits from the care team believing that contact with the staff may increase their risk of contamination to the virus. This can lead to a compromise in quality of life as symptoms go untreated or psychosocial concerns unsupported or validated.
“Who will care for the seriously ill when hospitals have reached capacity?”
While most hospice patients prefer to be cared for in their own homes, the increasing need for beds for COVID
patients has diverted attention away those profoundly ill patients who may need hospitalised care for the management of uncontrolled symptoms. n a perfect world, hospitalised patients would be contained, healed and then discharged with no symptoms. But with a limited supply of hospital beds, sick people will be discharged to the community, to their homes — and may still be in need of care or with unmanaged symptoms. There are a limited number of health care workers, both in private and public health care, who are available to provide care to patients across the health care spectrum. Many of these health care workers’ attention is being diverted away from key health services to attend to COVID patients, in the public health care sector particularly. This has resulted in more patients being referred to our organisation for generalised care, which not only places an additional strain on our limited resources but can create unrealistic expectations from patients that we are unable to meet. The patient care staff try to link patients and families to alternative health care resources which may be of help to them. While COVID-19 has placed an enormous strain on all health care services, including hospice care, we remain committed and will do our utmost to fulfil our mission of ‘No end to Caring’.