Hospice provider VITAS Healthcare will launch a national grief helpline that will offer support from the company’s bereavement care professionals and social workers to those who are grieving a loved one during the novel coronavirus outbreak. VITAS is a subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHE).
The service, set to launch on May 26, will likewise offer support to health care workers who have faced tragedy and personal risk while responding to the pandemic and caring for COVID-19 patients. Services are available via phone at 866-800-4707. VITAS intends to offer the service through May 29.
“In the hospice profession, we’re accustomed to dealing with death. On a daily basis, our hospice nurses, physicians, aides, chaplains, social workers, and volunteers manage the loss of vulnerable patients that we’ve taken care of and gotten close to, sometimes over weeks or months. In hospice, it’s a cumulative form of grief because we know that our patients are going to die,” Joseph Shega, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer for VITAS, told Hospice News. “With COVID-19, the experience is no doubt more intense, unpredictable, and traumatic, and it occurs within a very short time, but the cumulative and coping strategies of dealing with grief and loss are similar. Our greatest contributions can come by supporting our healthcare colleagues who aren’t accustomed to coping with death.”
To date, more than 95,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
About 50 of the company’s grief specialists will staff the helpline, which is accompanied by an online support group specifically for health care workers. Grief specialists will speak with callers, listen to their experiences, provide counseling, coping strategies and tips for managing their bereavement.
One objective of the program is to aid health care workers who may be at risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation.
“Even one suicide is too many, and it’s clear that some front-line workers are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. What we can do is help them face the range of emotions that they’re experiencing and let them know they’re not alone. They might be feeling shame at their inability to treat their COVID-19 patients successfully, guilt that they couldn’t save a patient, or a sense of incompetence because they can’t keep up with the coronavirus treatment guidelines and medical updates that change almost every single day,” Shega said. “Those feelings of absolute helplessness and worthlessness can be particularly profound, especially when you’ve taken an oath to do no harm and have promised to do everything possible to save a life, yet your patients keep dying, one after another. Just letting them know that their colleagues have the same feelings and experiences, or that help is available, can be a valuable first step.”