Paula Span writes in a New York Times article how hospice companies are grappling with pandemic-fueled staff shortages, where care support centers cannot accept new patients or delay their enrollment. This is devastating for people who require hospice services and their families.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected hospice care for patients and staffing. This is a challenge because the home healthcare industry and hospice care have already faced workforce shortages for years. Salaries, transportation to work, and working hours have led to rising turnover stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some hospice providers are starting to shut down their programs or sell off their operations because they cannot recruit or retain trained employees.

Hospice Staff Shortages Are Occurring Across the Country

Hospice staff shortages have developed across the country. While closing to new patients is not a common response, “it’s getting worse,” said Edo Banach, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Medicare reported more than half of the 2.3 million Medicare beneficiaries who die annually rely on hospice care. “It causes huge distress to tell a family, ‘We can’t serve you,’ ” said Barbara Hansen, who directs Oregon’s and Washington’s state hospice and palliative care organizations.

Facts about hospice in the U.S.:

When a diagnosis is terminal, families of dying loved ones turn to hospice care services, and pain-free comfort is a  priority.

Hospice is available through Medicare for people expected to die within six months and agree to forego curative treatment. Hospice services are also available if you own a long-term care plan.

U.S. patients spend a median of 18 days in hospice. If your doctor tells the person they have limited life expectancy contacting Medicare or care support services at your hospital or care center to help them apply and schedule hospice services.

More than 35% of hospice leaders contacted by Hospice News in 2021 cited staffing shortages as a top concern for their organizations.

  • By 2040, the patient population will need 10,640 to 24,000 specialists; the number of trained hospice workers is expected to range between 8,100 and 19,000.
  • Providers face unique challenges when it comes to recruiting medical, social work, and nursing students, primarily due to limited exposure to hospice and palliative care during training. Most students in clinical disciplines do not feel prepared to provide end-of-life care.

Nursing Home Hospice Care May be a Better Option than Home Hospice Care

Home hospice is often the first choice for end of life; however, nursing homes are staffed with nurses and doctors 24/7, making them a better choice for a loved one’s long-term care and end-of-life needs. Families will feel assured that if a family or friend is in a nursing home, they will not be left without supervision at the end of life.

Additional care planning to consider

a. Have a conversation with an extended care benefits advisor about owning a long-term care plan. Depending on the state you live there are a variety of plans to choose from. A knowledgeable and competent LTC advisor will provide you with helpful information.

b. Have a conversation with your professional advisors about your finances, legal documents, and your family about your assets and where your important documents are located. There are fiduciary services to hire to monitor and pay your lifestyle expenses and take responsibility for financial details you have been responsible for in your life.

c. Speak with your family and get information on how to talk about caregiving and end-of-life requests from the conversation project. The conversation project video:

d. Plan incrementally so that having comprehensive care planning support in place does not become overwhelming or a crisis when caregiving or end-of-life decisions need to be made.