St. Croix Hospice, a portfolio company of the private equity firm H.I.G. Capital, is taking a new approach to helping patients stave off the adverse effects of social isolation at the end of life. The company’s InTouch Family Connection Program is designed to help patients connect with family and loved ones both virtually and in person.
The need for social distancing and restricted access to facilities during the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the impact of isolation on hospice patients’ quality of life. Hospice and palliative care providers have been seeking solutions to address isolation issues and help families stay connected in their loved one’s final days.
“The psychosocial and emotional impact [of isolation] is severe. Hospice patients and their families already have limited time to spend together due to the patient’s prognosis,” said Mandy Cogswell, chief clinical officer for St. Croix told Hospice News. “To have that time limited even more by facility and social distancing restrictions can be devastating for some patients and their families.”
Social isolation during the coronavirus emergency has substantially impacted the hospice population, as well as seniors in general. Research has identified significant links between social isolation and increased risk of early mortality among older and seriously ill patients.
According to a recent report from health insurance marketplace company GoHealth, the pandemic has been driving a mental health decline among isolated aging populations as they practice social distancing from family and friends. In a nationwide study of 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries, 25% percent reported a decline in their mental wellness since the pandemic’s onset, and more than 90% felt lonelier now than before it began.
St. Croix was able to implement its InTouch program at a minimal cost. Their clinical staff are already equipped with tablets and smartphones used to connect patients and families virtually using applications that are often free to download, according to Cogswell, who was named a Hospice News Future Leader earlier this year.
The hospice has revised its care plan and assessment tools in the electronic medical record to include information about barriers to patients connecting with family members and other significant people in their lives. Clinicians leverage technology to help patients stay in touch virtually, but other components of the program are designed to facilitate in-person visits.
St. Croix staff supply families with personal protective equipment (PPE) and educate them on basic infection prevention and control practices. If the patient dwells in a nursing home, assisted living or other facility, the hospice provider helps ensure they are in compliance with any applicable rules or guidelines.
“St. Croix has worked to form multiple relationships with PPE vendors throughout the months of this pandemic. We have also dedicated a full-time employee to PPE management,” Cogswell said “She’s responsible for calculating the PPE burn rates, sourcing vendors, ordering inventory, and most importantly, getting the PPE to our clinicians.”