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Hospice aides come to work every day to provide the personal care and support needed by those in their last months and weeks of life. Does your agency do enough to honor their work?

Hospice aides come to work every day to provide the personal care and support needed by those in their last months and weeks of life. They teach family members and friends how to care for their loved ones gently and safely. They sing and read to patients and have been known to bring treats for the family dog.

Does your organization recognize the value of care provided by hospice aides (and other caregivers who tend to people at the end of their lives)? Do you share their stories and value their contributions?

During my days as a hospice nurse, I remember visiting a family in the hospital. The physician had suggested hospice services for their mom. The shock of her diagnosis and the news that the time had come to focus on Mom’s comfort and quality was written on their faces.

Sitting in the conference room, waiting for everyone to gather, I noticed the brochures provided to families from various hospice providers. I picked up the brochure for a large hospice agency who, along with our organization, served patients in our county.

Headlining the front of their brochure, was a short blurb about hospice aide services, describing them as “loving hands to help with bathing and other personal care needs.” Next, I looked at my agency’s brochure; aide services were simply listed near the bottom of the “services provided” list on the inside page.

So, what does that “loving hands to help” service look like?

I think of Ms. V, a hospice aide on my team. She cared for a tiny, frail woman with dementia. For several months, Ms. V started her day by bathing, dressing, and combing the hair of this frail woman. She watched her skin, notifying the nurse of any concerns. She sang hymns, giving solace to both the patient and her husband. She also provided a comforting presence…a gift you could only appreciate if you looked closely.

The patient did not speak or interact with others, but when I walked into the room, my presence was enough to cause her to tense up. When Ms. V was in the room, you could see some slight changes. The patient’s limbs were a little less stiff, her face was a little less tense, and her appearance communicated the trust she had in Ms. V.

The patient’s husband shared how grateful he was for the care and companionship Ms. V provided. “My wife’s been good to me my whole life. Hospice is helping me be good to her in whatever time she has left.”

Hospice regulations allow care provided by hospice aides to be included in the time billed for continuous care, a special level of care provided to keep patients comfortable at home in a time of crisis such as pain or shortness of breath. This is because they recognize the value of an aide’s comforting presence during times of stress for the patient and family.

For me, one of the most memorable examples of the value provided by hospice aides came while caring for a young father. He was dying from cancer and struggling with agitation and restlessness.

My role was clinical: assessing the patient, adjusting the medications, and educating the family on what to expect next. In contrast, Ms. J., a seasoned hospice aide, brought her “loving hands” to come to the family’s rescue, provide personal care, and exude compassion. She had only met the patient and family twice but was able to settle both the patient and his mom using her gentle presence and soothing words.

Ms. J. and I alternated time with the patient and family, depending on the most urgent needs. Then, as the patient’s symptoms escalated and the need for more support and care arose, Ms. J. and I attended the family together.

We were both there when the patient died. The patient’s mom was so appreciative of the care Ms. J. provided. “She helped me bathe my son one last time. I’ll never forget that.”

Hospice aides are invaluable for both everyday care and the extraordinary moments when their supportive skills and compassionate presence make a difference. Do you celebrate what they bring your patients and families or are they relegated to the bottom of the list of services you offer?

Take a listen to a brief clip sharing the value of their work from the perspective of a hospice aide.

Does your agency do enough to honor their work?

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