How has hospice care changed during the coronavirus?

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The Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg continues to offer bereavement services during the coronavirus. (WYDaily/ File photo)
The Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg continues to offer bereavement services during the coronavirus. (WYDaily/ File photo)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to alter lives, changing the way people live, work and play.

It also changed the very fabric of society, touching every aspect from birth to death, from celebration to mourning, from gatherings to isolation.

And adjustments had to be made, even during end-of-life care when the simple presence and touch of another person, a loved one, can pacify fear and create peace, even for the last time.

It’s a situation all too real for the Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg, a residential facility that provides free end-of-life care services, as it continues to support families and their loved ones during the coronavirus.

Indeed some procedures have changed, but it needed to be.

Audrey Smith, executive director for the nonprofit, said hospice care is considered essential and for families seeking end of life care for their loved ones, they are continuing to accept people for end of life care.

The hospice house, which typically houses four residents, has limited their clients to two and the staff are equipped with personal protective equipment, as well as training to use them, she added.

“Caring for our guest with a mask and with gloves…those physical barriers are very different for us,” Smith said, adding the staff is used to being in close proximity, touching residents and giving them hugs. “It’s very different for us, but it’s an adjustment.”

The facility has also limited visitors to one at a time and restricted visiting hours. Instead of visitors going through the entire building to access their loved one’s room, they enter the person’s room directly through the patio entrance from an outside door.

“We’re doing very special screening, asking very specific questions,” Smith said. “We take a temperature at the door.”

For family members who can’t visit, the facility uses technology to connect families either through an iPad, a family member’s phone or through the resident’s personal nurse.

“Everybody who is a guest at our house has to have a medical hospice agency in place,” Smith said, noting the nurse who checks in on them can also connect them with family members using technology.

The facility is staffed with two members 24 hours day, Smith said.

When asked how the residents are getting food during this time, Smith said there is kitchen on-site with light snacks available.

“Folks that are here with us are here for an average of 3-7 days,” she added. “Most folks who are at end of life don’t eat meals.”

In addition to the residential facility, the hospice house also provides home care services to give caregivers a break, loans basic medical equipment such and has bereavement support for the community.

While the volunteer home care program is suspended for the time being, other services are not.

The hospice house continues to loan medical equipment and recently transitioned their bereavement service to a virtual Zoom support group which meets Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Another new venture is “Touch Points,” a weekly blog on select topics to support people. At the bottom of each blog post, there is Zoom meeting information for the virtual bereavement support group.

“We recognize that we are all grieving and this is historical proportions,” Smith said. “We really wanted to lean into the issue and lean into the community…we’re here for you.”

Those seeking advice or support can call the Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg during normal business hours at 757-253-1220. For more information, visit their website or their Facebook page.

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