Hospice Bereavement Programs Make All the Difference.

Over the course of my 13 years in the industry I’ve worked with many hospices and hospice bereavement programs around the country. Small, mid-sized, very large. Rural, urban. Publicly traded, privately held.  For profit, non-profit. Each one was special and each one taught me something that enhanced my knowledge of hospice and the special people that work within them.  Among the agencies there is a special group of hospices that I could likely go on and on about.  What makes them different and why could I talk, seemingly endlessly, about them?

I wondered this for some time and then had an epiphany.  Each one had a very special hospice bereavement program.  What made it special was perhaps how they worked with bereaved families, the special programs they offered or how they communicated with their bereaved population.  I met directors that spoke adamantly about how they’d allow or not allow their bereavement coordinators to communicate.  One went so far as to say that any mailing that came from the hospice, regarding bereavement, to a bereaved, should be hand addressed.   He also preferred that the enclosed communications be hand written, whether they were invitations to memorial events or support groups, or a simple “how are you” message.

As I thought some more about these special agencies, I realized that the community support that each one received was incredible. A few had fundraisers that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars. You may be thinking, “Sure, but that was probably for an agency that had a census of around 500+.” It wasn’t. One such hospice had an ADC of around 150 at the time I worked with them. The same agency is much larger now. Growth I attribute to fantastic caregivers, an incredible bereavement program, strong leadership and a connection to the community.

The COP requirement to offer bereavement services is another cost that comes without additional monies from payers.  Not to mention being in a time when so many hospices are struggling just to keep things going day to day. (CMS believing that monies paid through per-diems assist with the costs and that the requirement for volunteer hours also assists with the delivery of services.) No doubt about it, it’s tough, so how do you do it?

At a recent regional conference I saw a class offering that offered suggestions on how to run a bereavement program on a shoestring budget. I understand where the speaker, and so many agencies are coming from about wanting advice on such a topic. It does, however, give me pause because so many referrals, volunteers and donations come from families that have received care from a hospice.  Many of those individuals having once been bereaved.

Pardon the continuation of the analogy but… If we tie (our shoe strings) too tight do we affect our ability to run?

Providing exceptional care to patients is necessary, in my humble opinion. I wonder, however, if an agency focuses attention and energy (not necessarily high dollars) in bereavement does that have the ability to increase community awareness, fundraising and attention? Thereby being able to provide more care and share more of the hospice benefit with more people?

What are your thoughts? What are your creative ways to make your bereavement program stand out, without over-spending?