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Health Care
Sep 15, 2021

Hospice Care Provides Added Benefits During COVID-19

Sponsored Content provided by Kelly Erola - Chief Medical Officer, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare

Although getting vaccinated and limiting contact with others has helped many people reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19, for those needing heightened levels of medical care, social distancing can present additional challenges.
Regular care is needed to manage pain, symptoms, and stresses associated with a life-limiting illness. Family members need education and support as they take care of their loved one at home.

Hospice care is safely provided in the home. The benefits of hospice care are many, including keeping those most vulnerable safe at home by reducing hospital admissions, readmissions and lessening time spent in the hospital if admitted.

Lower Cape Fear LifeCare team members are following current state, local, and CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are required to self-check before each day’s work and have been instructed to stay at home if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is worn during face-to-face visits and elevated hand hygiene practices are followed between patients. As soon as vaccines became available, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare was encouraging all its team members to get vaccinated to protect themselves, patients and loved ones, and the community at large.

Fear of exposure should not prevent anyone from getting the care they need. The benefits of care and expertise of trained clinicians are exactly why people shouldn’t wait to call.

Hospice care is proven to improve quality of life for patients and their loved ones. The level of benefits experienced depends on when care begins. Often, people wait too long before calling for care. For the greatest benefits care should begin as soon as possible in the disease process.

Hospice care is for people with a life-limiting illness with a life expectancy of six months or less for whom treatment is no longer an option or desired. The Medicare Hospice Benefit covers all care, supplies, equipment and medications related to the illness. Medicaid and most private insurance companies also provide a hospice benefit. As a nonprofit, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare (LCFL), formerly Lower Cape Fear Hospice, never refuses anyone care based on their ability to pay.

In addition to the benefits normally provided, there are many reasons why it’s even more important to seek hospice care during the pandemic.

Hospice care is provided at home meaning less exposure to risk. An underlying principle of hospice care is that it helps prevent admittance/re-admittance to the hospital by managing pain and symptoms at home. Patients who are admitted generally spend less time in the hospital. This is important during the pandemic when hospital beds may be in short supply.

Clinical team members are only a phone call away, any day, any time. While hospice does not provide 24/7 care in the home, a clinical team member who can help address patient concerns or issues is always available by phone, again, helping patients remain at home. If needed, a clinician will come to the patient’s home any time of day or night, weekdays, weekends and holidays.

Hospice care workers are very adept at managing care during times of extreme emergency. LCFL’s team has experience making sure patients’ needs are met, even during hurricanes, blizzards, and other natural disasters and emergencies. Through emergency preparedness plans and regular meetings, care teams constantly assess conditions and resources to ensure continuity of care. During the pandemic, LCFL’s emergency preparedness team is monitoring the virus situation and adjusting policies and procedures as necessary.

Emotional care is provided to patients and their loved ones. This is a great support to those with exiting health conditions who need to reduce contact with others. This type of separation can be especially hard on patients and can exacerbate other stressors that exist during the pandemic. The care team’s social workers and chaplains offer a listening ear and a kind heart.

Chaplains provide much-needed spiritual care. At a time when people may not feel comfortable attending regular church services, LCFL chaplains are there to address spiritual concerns and provide readings and prayer. Chaplains never try to change patients’ religious or spiritual beliefs. They act only as an extra layer of support and guidance to meet spiritual needs.
When pain and symptoms cannot be managed at home, inpatient hospice care centers are available.
LCFL’s three inpatient hospice care centers provide 24/7 acute care in a home-like setting. Although visitation policies have been adjusted to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19, family members are still able to spend precious time with their loved one. LCFL is the only hospice provider in the region that operates hospice care centers and are exclusively available to their patients and families. Large rooms accommodate both patients and loved ones thereby reducing interactions with others.
 
Team members can help with advance care plans. People receiving hospice are among those considered most vulnerable should they contract COVID-19. Having an advance care plan in place ensures that their wishes are honored.
Grief care is available for more than a year. Counseling support is available to family members for thirteen months after the death of the loved one to help them find a path to healing and learn to cope with the loss of someone so important in their lives.
We hope that people in our community will look to us as a resource if they think it’s time for the specialized medical care hospice offers. We have a short quiz they can take at that may help them determine if hospice care is appropriate for themselves or a loved one. People can always refer a family member, friend, neighbor or even themselves by calling us at 800-207-6908 and talking to one of our patient access specialists.


Kelly Erola, MD, FAAHPM, FAAFP, is currently the Chief Medical Officer for Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, based in Wilmington, NC, where she has worked since 2017. Previously, she was Chief Medical Officer for Hospice Savannah, Inc. for 16 years and physician leader of the Steward Center for Palliative Care. Dr. Erola is board certified in hospice and palliative care medicine and has been involved full-time in palliative care since 2002.

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