The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an extensive need for additional bereavement care, as the nation contends with the grief of more than 400,000 deaths. Hospice providers routinely provide grief services to their entire communities, regardless of whether residents’ loved ones were their patients, but many may need additional resources if they are to meet the rising demand.
The National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Social Work in Hospice & Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) have called for policymakers to discuss a national strategy for the thousands of family, friends and others who have lost people to the novel coronavirus.
“One of the most profound lasting effects from the coronavirus pandemic will be its impact on how we experience grief,” said NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach. “The significance of loss in our lives is something hospice and palliative care professionals know well.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires hospice providers to offer bereavement counseling for a minimum of 13 months following a patient’s death, but hospices tend to go above and beyond by making grief care available to everyone.
Hospice providers nationwide are reassessing how they provide bereavement care due to the need for social distancing during the ongoing pandemic. With few other options, many are turning to telehealth systems to support grieving families.
Hospices have had to cancel in-person counseling sessions, meetings with families as well as support groups and other services to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus. These necessary restrictions come at a time in which many families in addition to their grief are coping with increased anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation as the outbreak continues.
Many people are experiencing complicated grief, which is grief that lasts longer and more intensely than one might expect. The social isolation and other psychosocial vulnerabilities brought on by the pandemic is a major contributor to that problem. Another consideration is anticipatory grief, in which families mourn a person who is expected to die soon.
In a recent letter to the Biden administration, NHPCO advocated for the establishment of a public health campaign to improve understanding of grief, often called grief literacy, as well as resources and training to enhance bereavement care.
A range of organizations have also asserted the need for a National Grief Strategy in the wake of the pandemic.
“With over 400,000 dead in the United States alone from COVID-19, we are all grieving together, but we are grieving in a country that doesn’t often talk about death or grief,” said SWHPN Executive Director Jessica Strong. “It is time we change that, time we talk about and build a better understanding of grief, so we can all help each other through this difficult time.”