Great Lakes Health Partners CEO: Employee Grief Support Can Boost Recruitment, Retention

Illinois-based Great Lakes Health Partners, an Interim Healthcare franchise, is launching a grief support group for employees aimed at helping hospice workers deal with the stress of providing bedside end-of-life care.

The home health and hospice provider also offers palliative care, as well as chronic disease management services for seniors. The company is piloting a virtual peer support group for interdisciplinary staff to share their challenges and experiences.

Hospice News recently sat down with Great Lakes Health Partners CEO Steven Alessandro to discuss the impacts around recruitment and retention, as well as how the grief support group can have can have a “ripple effect” on care delivery and quality.

Steven Alessandro Great Lakes Health Partners
Steven Alessandro, CEO, Great Lakes Health Partners. (Photo: Great Lakes Health Partners)

What were some reasons that led to the launch of a hospice employee bereavement support group?

About a month ago we had a hospice nursing applicant who came to us and mentioned that a primary concern was struggling with the bereavement side and finding some ways to cope after a patient passes. We didn’t have this support available, and a light bulb went off for us for us to start developing it.

I have a clinical psychology background and thought of developing a support group that started with our hospice team, extending it to home health team members that wanted to join. I’m a firm believer that we have to take care of our employees, because their mental health being sound and their stress levels being adequately managed will allow them to provide stronger, better care and support for our hospice patients as well as their families.


So if we can provide some additional support for them to allow them to better manage stresses that come with this job, we’re more than happy and willing to do that.

What are key pieces to include when developing an employee support program?

We have some hospice staff who have expressed that just having a platform to be able to vent, share and lean on other teammates would be a great first step. So, we’re in the process of piloting a weekly virtual meeting right now.

We’re providing that platform for our staff to connect wherever they are and be able to discuss their stresses. We’ve put it out there to the entire hospice team, picking times and days that work best for them.

We figured that it needs to be flexible, on different days of the week depending on patient care needs. We have a target date of starting the group later in October. It’ll be setting aside about an hour to provide a place for them to talk through the tough things they might be experiencing related to this rewarding, but difficult job. These conversations will be allowed to naturally evolve and then have additional resources and layers of other support as necessary.

Can you tell me more about the types of grief support a program such as this offers hospice workers?

What we hope to answer with a platform like this is allowing us to understand what’s at the heart of their challenges. We want to help our hospice team work on establishing healthy boundaries of work and personal life and provide resources completely supportive of that goal.

Hospice workers have the heart to give everything to the patients and families, but they don’t always have the necessary skill set to sort of protect their emotional well-being in this line of work. It can be incapacitating to hold onto the grief and loss they experience with patients on a regular basis. So whether it’s myself or another local clinical psychologist from an organization outside of ours, we’re going to help give them tips and tricks and whatever else they might need to overcome these moments.

We’re trying to organically develop it to allow support structures to develop in a customized way, doing different team building things to boost the overall employee morale. The mental health side is a main focus we aim to support, because they’re dealing with a lot more in depth, complex grief, especially when a lot of these hospice referrals come to us closer to the end stages. They’re dealing with a higher level of grief with those deaths alongside a higher census volume of short stays.

What are some of the costs associated with expanding employee grief support services? How are you navigating these?

As far as the costs at the program’s start, it’ll essentially take away from staff’s “work time hours” from a productivity standpoint if they decide to join the group. It’s not mandatory, just for anyone who feels like this is something that will be helpful. But ultimately we look at this as a long-term productivity builder as far as having the support to sustain them in providing hospice care.

There could be costs associated with bringing in outside support elements, resources or people, and we’ll assess those discretionary funds as we go along, budgeting specifically towards employee engagement. As we come through that budgeting process, it’s something we hope to build in each year, layering in extra funds just for any additional support they might need, whether that’s mental health therapies or other outlets.

But this is more than a cost, it’s about the different benefits that we can give back to our staff to show them how much their work is valued and how much we value their mental health.

What do anticipate as far as those different benefits of providing hospice workers with expanded bereavement support?

We hope this will be another block of building company culture and truly hoping that there is an increased level of job satisfaction among our staff.

Our hope is that this will also yield employee retention benefits, because if there’s somebody who wants to be in hospice and they understand the stressors that go with it, they should have the support they need to deliver that care. It’s also towards recruitment and looking to build a reputation as being one of the best places for hospice workers, because it shows we understand and value our employees.

What we’re hoping for is a little bit of a ripple effect. The more we show employees these types of support, they will in turn be that much more engaged in trying to spread that positivity to the patients and their families. The more we give back to our staff even in just little ways with extra support around their grief, the more they can support others.

Where do you see the future of employee grief support heading, and what are some ways hospice providers can play a role in that outlook?

None of us really know the answer to what the future looks like, but as we continue to grow our workforce it’s vital to assess and be able to see their needs.

Right now this is a virtual support group, but it could be something we do more in our interdisciplinary group meetings or creating a space for people to come together in person to talk through different things. Having that face-to-face cohort of people to lean on who have a window into your world can change everything as far as how a person can function and thrive in a role.

The one thing we want is to try to remain open-minded and engaged and have an open door policy around staff needs so that we can be flexible and adapt programs like these. This is a step in the right direction to develop policies and tools in-house and allow things to grow from there.

We’re at about 210 hospice patients across our offices so far and growing. We have the ability to be flexible right now as we grow. And that’s something that will be a higher value long-term for retention. It’s showing them we’ll go above and beyond to support their well-being.

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