As the COVID-19 outbreak rages on, many families are forced into making the difficult decision of choosing between hospice care and going on a ventilator. Relatives often weigh the potential life-saving benefits of providing a ventilator and the comfort provided by hospice care where relatives can say their goodbyes. It seems the elderly just want to be loved and surrounded by the people they love at the time of their death.
Take the example of Bob Odrowski, a Vietnam War veteran who fell sick with COVID-19 who didn’t want to be put on the ventilator and preferred hospice care. His daughter, however, pleaded with him to try it and eventually he died a few days later. His daughter and son were able to meet him during the final days of his life, but most are not as lucky. Most patients on ventilators are isolated and relatives are not allowed to visit them, causing heartbreak for families who wish to be with their loved one in their final moments.
More than half of patients placed on ventilators don’t get better anyway, so families choose to provide hospice care in the hope that it might be comfortable and a less painful experience for everyone involved. Hospice care is aimed towards providing the best quality of life possible for the patient and reducing the painful symptoms that come with chronic illnesses. Hospice is a type of palliative care; its purpose is focused more on helping the patient live comfortably rather than trying all methods to extend a patient’s life.
Given the benefits of hospice care and the dramatic increase in elderly patients who have died from COVID-19, it becomes even more necessary for patients to have access to hospice care. Unfortunately, most facilities are too overstretched to provide hospice care and don’t provide it in consideration for the patients who aren’t infected with COVID-19 that are in the same facility. This is understandable, but providing for the patient’s comfort and quality of life regardless of the circumstances should be a primary priority. Families must be given the opportunity to choose this option and the hospice industry must be prioritized.
With the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the hospice industry has had to rely on the secondary market for access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Many patients who want access to hospice care will only qualify if they have a terminal diagnosis, so many patients who are just suffering from COVID-19 won’t qualify. Hospice programs are currently over stretched due to an influx of patients from hospitals who were discharged in order to make more space for COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, many of the hospice staff have fallen sick or have child care issues. This has only worsened the challenges faced in the hospice industry, making many scared for the outcome of employees and patients alike.
Hospice care staff and programs are an important asset in the healthcare industry. The palliative care model has encouraged staff to listen and take note about patient values and philosophy, performing in the patient’s best interest at all times. Physicians and staff spend hours talking to relatives of their patients and respect the decisions chosen by the patient, even if they go against the doctor’s recommendation. Hospitals must designate impatient wards specifically for COVID-19 patients at the end of their lives who desire hospice care. This advancement would only restore human connectedness and the comfort that is so desperately needed in these trying times at hospitals.