Three questions to ask Colorado hospice and palliative care providers that serve your senior care facility’s residents

By Patricia Mehnert, RN, MN, CHPCA

We’ve seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially cruel to older Coloradans.

Well over half of reported deaths have been among residents of nursing homes and senior care facilities, the Colorado Sun reported on May 20.

Operators of skilled, assisted and memory care settings understand the incredibly high stakes for their residents and the need to do everything in their power to protect them.

Yet facility managers also understand the need to provide access to comforting hospice and palliative care to residents who need it during this period of crisis that has challenged many seniors with extraordinary stress and anxiety.

But how does a facility balance the needs of patients for this care with the imperative to keep them as safe as possible from COVID-19?

When vetting hospice and palliative care providers whose staff could enter a facility, consider these three questions:

1. Does the provider have an emergency mitigation plan?

Providers should be prepared to show you their emergency mitigation plan, which should include specific policies and protocols to help protect both caregivers and all those they serve. It should be guided by the most current information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It should include protocols for their staff when caring for patients who test positive for COVID-19. It should also include protocols for staff who are potentially exposed to a family member who tests positive. It must clearly demonstrate how all employees, patients and their families are protected.

2. Does the provider have access to the necessary supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE)?

The struggles of health care providers nationally in obtaining necessary PPE are well documented. But for facilities, this requirement must be non negotiable for all caregivers who want to enter. All caregivers should have been issued their own set of full PPE equipment and have been fully trained on how to use it.

3. Has the provider implemented measures that allow interaction with patients and families through telehealth technology?

Telehealth is increasingly allowing hospice and palliative care providers to continue to deliver important services even when in-person interactions are not possible for various reasons. Telehealth can be provided via phone and/or video with patients and their loved ones. Remote visits may include a social worker, chaplain and music therapist, for example. Grief and loss counseling is also available to family members through telehealth methods.

Senior care facility operators fully understand the great responsibility they have to their residents. Asking these questions and carefully reviewing the answers can help ensure they have confidence in hospice and palliative care partners.

About the Author

Patricia Mehnert, RN, MN, CHPCA is Director of Corporate Compliance and Risk Management for Care Synergy.

The Care Synergy network’s five affiliate organizations operate as distinct and independent not-for-profit mission-driven hospice and palliative care organizations while working together to share best practices and serve more Coloradans along the Front Range. The affiliates are The Denver Hospice and Optio Health Services, Halcyon Hospice & Palliative Care, Pathways, Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care, and Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. Ms. Mehnert also is serving as interim President at Halcyon.