ProPublica: COVID Patients Sent to Hospice Against Families’ Wishes

COVID-19 patients were discharged from New Orleans hospitals into their homes or a hospice facility against the wishes of their families, a recent ProPublica investigation alleged. Each of the affected families was African American, the report indicated.

Though the Kaiser Health Foundation reports that more than 70% of people in the United States say they would prefer to end their lives in their homes, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated these already difficult decisions due to worries about spreading the virus to family caregivers.

In New Orleans, about 17% of COVID patients age 85 or older died in their homes, compared to 4% nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these patients were discharged from the Ochsner Health hospital network, which treated 60% of coronavirus patients in the New Orleans area, ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, reported.

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“Ochsner made a decision in stark contrast to those made by other hospitals in COVID-19 hot spots across the country: At a time when relatives were being kept away from their sick loved ones to prevent the spread of a contagious and deadly virus, Ochsner sent infected patients back into communities to die at home, and be cared for by untrained family members without the proper protective equipment,” the report said.

A number of the families who had this experience told ProPublica that they felt pressured by the hospital to take their COVID-positive loved ones home despite their objections, with clinicians often citing a lack of beds or a need to make room for incoming patients.

The families indicated that their loved ones frequently died in pain and that the virus spread to least two individuals due to these practices.

The concept of patient choice is integral to hospice care, with the ultimate aim being to provide person-centered care that is concordant with the patient’s goals and wishes.

“While we as a provider community would never want people to be influenced to forego hospice, patients should never be forced into accepting hospice care by those in the medical community,” said National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) President and CEO Edo Banach in a statement on the report. “An individual’s rights to choose the care they want when facing a medical crisis should never be lost, especially during a pandemic.”

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