Spiritual Support in Hospice Care

Hospice care is founded on the belief that, even when cure is no longer possible and time is measured in months or weeks, there is still an opportunity for quality of life, comfort, dignity, and hope. The mission of hospice is to affirm life and view death as a natural process. Hospice is not designed to hasten death or “help” someone die, but rather to help patients live the remainder of their lives as fully as possible.

Yolanda Marable, Social Worker for Lincoln Hospice, states, “Hospice care helps people live their lives to the fullest extent possible. We are able to provide medications and equipment, but just as importantly we are able to provide information to support patients and families in making well-informed decisions. Care addresses not only the physical needs of the patient, but the emotional, spiritual, and social needs of the patient and family members as well. The uniqueness of hospice care is this total person approach, and the services that continue to be offered to the family even after the patient has passed away”.

Susie Compton, RN, is the Administrator at Lincoln Hospice. “The first step of hospice care is to determine what the unique needs of the patient and family are. What is important to them? Is it pain relief? Is it concern over the ability to provide care in the home? Are there financial issues? Is there emotional or spiritual distress surrounding the patient’s illness or impending death? Are there unresolved issues surrounding relationships in the family? The only way to approach this kind of holistic care is to have a team of trained professionals who can work with the family to set goals for care, and work together to achieve them. Our care and services recognize the integrity and value of each family’s lifestyle, traditions, cultural and spiritual beliefs”.

The hospice interdisciplinary team is composed of a Medical Director, nurses, social workers, home health aides, and counselors. Volunteers also play a vital role in helping meet agency and patient needs. “Counseling is offered to patients and families to address grief and bereavement issues as well as spiritual needs”, says Amy Bates, RN, Patient Care Coordinator. “Every person in hospice is assessed to determine what they need and desire to have the best care possible”.

At end of life, patients and families may have many questions and concerns that are not always easily addressed. Compton explains, “Some of the questions that we hear are ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘What do I believe?’ ‘How can I have hope?’ Spiritual care can help our patients and their loved ones explore these concerns. Patients can choose to be cared for by a chaplain who provides spiritual support at this critical time in life. The chaplain does not replace an individual’s clergy connection, if he or she has one”, explains Compton. “But our hospice chaplain may be a liaison with a patient’s faith leader to complement that support system, if desired. Spiritual counseling is available at any time during the patient’s experience with hospice”.

Harold Dawkins serves as Chaplain for Lincoln Hospice. His experience as a Stephen Minister and his pursuit for credentialing as a lay pastor have given him a wide array of experience as a spiritual leader.  “As a spiritual care counselor, my primary role is to offer guidance and presence in the search for meaning, comfort, strength, and hope that many patients and their families seek at the end of life. The hospice chaplain’s role is not to ‘convert’ anyone to a particular religion. Spiritual care may or may not address someone’s religion. I may be able to help a patient and family find comfort in their own faith and traditions. Perhaps they just want someone to talk with or pray with. Sometimes talking about relationships and sharing life stories, or reading scripture may help the patient or family the most. I simply offer myself, then follow the patient and family’s lead to address those things that are important to them”.

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