Hospice providers have been redesigning bereavement care programs due to the need for social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, shifting from in-person to virtual grief support. As summer picks up steam, some organizations are also taking their grief camp programs for children online.
LifePath Hospice and Good Shepherd Hospice took their annual weekend grief camps online during the spring of 2020, as uncertainties linger about the potential for face-to-face support in 2021. Both hospices are affiliated with Chapters Health System.
Grief camps across the country have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, challenging providers to reach those in need. Like many other hospice services, bereavement care and grief support largely have converted to telehealth channels.
“Our bereavement staff is continuing support groups and individual counseling through telehealth as our current model,” said Sarah King, manager of social work, bereavement and volunteer services for LifePath Hospice. “That could change, but currently there are no in-person bereavement visits.”
Converting their annual weekend grief camps for children into a five-part virtual series, LifePath Hospice and Good Shepherd Hospice created their own online Camp at Home program to continue reaching families and children experiencing loss. Campers who were registered with Good Shepherd Hospice’s Camp BraveHeart and LifePath Hospice’s Camp Circle of Love were invited to take part in online activities designed to help navigate grief and provide support.
“This would have been our twenty-eighth year to have our children’s camp,” said King. “The camp came out of a need to support our grieving children. Hospice cares for the patient, but they’re also caring for the whole family. The annual camp is a way to support children, and it’s open to any child in the community. We offer this bereavement support to hospice families, but we also want to make sure that we open it up to the community.”
Held each spring for 125 grieving children and teens in Florida’s Polk, Highlands, Hardee and Hillsborough counties, Camp Circle of Love is set in a traditional campground environment at the Lakewood Retreat Center in Brooksville in that state. With many volunteers coming back as former campers themselves, the camp’s staff consists of community members, trained bereavement counselors, camp counselors and a registered nurse, among others. Campers take part in therapeutic activities such as a scavenger hunt, art, music and pet therapies, swimming, zip lining, a campfire chat and a memorial service, all offered free of charge.
As a not-for-profit organization, much of the children’s programs are financed via philanthropy and rely on the support of Chapters Health Foundation’s donors. The grief support camp is largely supported with funding from the foundation’s women’s entity, Hospice Women of Philanthropy.
“One of our main funding roles is to fund all of our bereavement programs,” said Liz Anderson, director of philanthropy for Chapters Health Foundation in support of LifePath Hospice. “Our women’s entity has funded this program for us to start. The foundation has been supportive in this from a financial standpoint, as our donors have, because they understand the impact of what helping a grieving child means to our community. Our children’s grief center provides a more hopeful side for donors who want to be able to touch the hospice mission. This camp is about helping children find healing and hope in their language and in their own way, which is in play. It’s not about sitting down and having a conversation. It’s more about them doing their grief journey through the language of play, and then also the ability to do it peer to peer.”
With bereavement camps postponed during the pandemic, hospices have been challenged to provide programming with the same level of impact. Providers have expressed rising concerns of families experiencing disenfranchised grief with decreased social bereavement support.
Many hospices extend their grief care beyond patient populations and step up support into the community at large with bereavement camps for children and families experiencing the loss of a loved one. Hospices are required by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to offer bereavement care to patients’ families for 13 months after their loved one expires.
“A number of our children are there because of a sudden traumatic loss, car accident, drug overdose, homicide or suicide,” King said. “There’s a lot of other children that we’re able to touch that aren’t necessarily touched through the care of LifePath Hospice, and a number of those referrals come from the [local] school system. Their grief is even greater now because of their social structures, their home life, their school connections, all of that is in such a state of upheaval everywhere in the country. These kids are having probably stronger grief reactions, so it’s even more critical that we have this contact with them, which evolved into this idea of bringing the camp to them.”
The online Camp at Home activities encourage family engagement and interaction. Campers receive packages each month that include instructions and supplies for healing crafts, gifts for each family and personalized notes from donors who supported the program.
“It’s been amazing to see how these online efforts can kind of reshape and refocus what you can do and change the way you serve your community,” Anderson told Hospice News. “We hope we changed a little bit of the rhythm in the home and made an impact. Children’s grief doesn’t stop when the series is over, but hopefully as a family, with a parent or guardian who’s also kind of walking through that journey with them, it’s a silver lining to be able to think differently about how to do that.”
With an intended make-up date in August, plans to return to an in-person day camp experience later in the fall of 2020 will be reevaluated amid concerns of keeping children safe, according to King. A virtual element of the camp may remain as the bereavement camp opens back up.
“Our goal as it stands right now is to hold our weekend sleepover camp in March of 2021,” King explained. “Hopefully, things are safe at that time to have it in person. It’s adapting the best we can right now with telehealth, but I also see that there is possibility we could continue doing some of this via Zoom if that works better for some. The good thing coming through all of this is that we have found ways to work together and these survivors are still being helped remotely.”
The virtual Camp at Home series will continue throughout the 2020 summer in support of grieving families from a distance.
“It has been hard, but we were able to get around to the [camp] activities, which I’m 100% grateful for,” said Brittany Evans, a parent of two campers. “I have been really busy adjusting to this stay at home thing and no school for the boys. These activities not only help the children, but also made me realize it’s okay to write my feelings down and openly talk about the situation.”