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Hospice and Palliative Care Support Needed More than Ever

To many Hospice clients and their families, Circle of Care volunteers are providing a welcomed distraction from the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Circle of Care currently provides support to over 40 Hospice clients across two hospice programs: a non-denominational Hospice program, and a Jewish Hospice program. Each client is paired with a Hospice volunteer. Before the pandemic, these volunteers provided support through visits in the home. Nowadays, volunteers are connecting to their clients online.

“We realized pretty early on in the year that we needed to shift gears and connect virtually,” says Lisa Rae, Manager of Volunteer Resources and Hospice Programs. “The decision to switch to phone calls and video chats was made with everyone’s safety in mind. We knew that we wanted to keep everyone connected, and to keep building these relationships we had cultivated between clients and volunteers.”

New Fears Introduce Challenges to Care

Living with a terminal illness can be heartbreaking and difficult in normal times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added new challenges to an already painful experience.

Over the past few months, many families of home hospice clients have pulled back on their personal support services, fearing the possibility of infection with numerous care workers moving in and out of the home. But providing this intensive care by themselves leaves them open to incredible burnout as the pandemic stretches out over many weeks and possible future months.

There are also added complications – many clients were on waitlists for hospice facilities, and families expected that Palliative Care units in hospitals would be there when needed. Now, those options are completely unthinkable for many because of their restrictions on visitors.

“There’s a huge fear among many families with giving up their loved one to a hospice or hospital,” says Charlotte Koven, Hospice Case Manager. “They want to be there at the end of life, and there’s tremendous guilt involved with having their loved ones die alone.”

Circle of Care Providing Guidance and Support

Circle of Care is providing help to Hospice clients and their families, in ways that they are comfortable, including setting these clients up for Circle of Care’s Meals on Wheels program and organizing grocery deliveries.

Charlotte, a psychotherapist by training, also tries to initiate conversations with families about what the future months may bring. Setting realistic expectations can be helpful when preparing for end of life.

“Things look very different now,” Charlotte explains. “I try to ask questions and provide guidance and support about topics that may not have  crossed their mind such as creating rituals for saying goodbye, new ways of mourning or even celebrating a loved one and dealing with the loss of what they had expected. As much as possible, I recommend for them to have systems of support in their life. Since spirituality is such an important part of life for many people, I encourage them to stay connected with their faith community online or by phone.” Many places of worship are offering virtual services and celebrations.

Throughout the time these families are receiving support – from the moment they enter the program until well after their loved one passes away – Charlotte and Circle of Care’s team of Hospice volunteers are checking in with regular phone calls to see what they need, and helping these family members look after themselves as well.

“Our services are needed more than ever,” says Charlotte. “I reach out to our clients by telephone more frequently than before because the level of stress they feel is increasing. These calls provide an emotional  life-line and help me discern what they need and problem-solve for them whenever I can. With things changing often, many families are grateful for a sympathetic ear and advice and support at such a difficult time. Sometimes just to hear a human voice is comforting and a nice distraction.”

Circle of Care’s hospice/palliative care program, accredited by Hospice Palliative Care Ontario, helps to improve the quality of life for those living with a terminal or life-limiting illness, and provides support for family members by recognizing and addressing the need for psychological, social, and spiritual care. In addition to our non-denominational hospice program, Circle of Care is proud to partner with Jewish Family & Child to offer a special program designed for the Jewish community.