Thursday, December 22, 2016

Grief During the Holidays

For those mourning a loved one – whether a recent death or one long ago – the holiday season which is customarily marked by celebrations and family gatherings can be full of painful reminders that heighten  the sense of loss. Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support someone struggling during the holidays.

Here are some tips: 

1.  Be understanding and supportive if someone wants to do things differently this holiday season.  Some people find strength in long established traditions while others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.

2.  Offer to help with decorating or holiday cooking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving or overwhelmed by events going on in the world around us. Lending a hand can be a great way to let someone know you’re thinking about them and their wellbeing. 

3.  Invite someone to join you or your family during the holidays.  If someone you know seems down or depressed, consider inviting them to join you for a holiday concert, religious service or a holiday meal where they are a guest. You might even offer to accompany them on a holiday shopping trip where a friend and extra set of hands can be helpful.

4.  Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen, staffing a coat drive, or working with children, may lift your spirits and help everyone feel better about the holidays. 

5.  Never tell someone that he or she should get ‘over it.’  It can be important to acknowledge that a friend or loved one is struggling. Don’t discount their emotions, but give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.

6.  Be willing to listen.  Don’t avoid someone because you don’t know what to say. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping someone coping with grief or overwhelming feelings of loss. Letting them share their feelings can help healing.

7.  Don’t be afraid to remember someone who has died.  When someone is grieving, it is okay to let them know that you are thinking of the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.

8.  Follow up after the holidays to check in.  Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any issues but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. So circling back after the holidays to see how he or she is doing can help.

Hospice and palliative care professionals have always recognized the need to provide emotional and spiritual support to those who are dealing with loss. Hospices often offer support to community members struggling with grief or loss so those struggling should check with a community hospice to see if support is available.

To learn more about grief or coping with loss, or to find a hospice and palliative care provider in your area, visit NHPCO’s CaringInfo website at   

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Veterans Bond Over Coffee and Conversation

December 7, 2016 marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a day to honor and remember, many organizations and We Honor Veterans partners held events to pay tribute to all Veterans, particularly those who served in WWII. I was lucky enough to attend a special event held in Welcome, North Carolina by We Honor Veterans Level 3 partner Hospice & Palliative CareCenter.

Many partners hold coffee events in their community as a way to bring Veterans together to share stories, giving them an extremely rare outlet. As a special commemoration event, Hospice and Palliative CareCenter organized an event of epic proportions. It was held at the Richard Childress Racing Museum and over 700 people were in attendance, including about 500 Veterans. What made the biggest impression was not the turnout, community collaboration or volunteers running around ensuring everyone had a seat and was taken care of – it was the comradery and the friendships that have come out of something as simple as getting together for a cup of coffee. 

I met a gentleman who was held as a POW for over a year during WWII. It came as no surprise that he became humbled when I thanked him for his service, saying he was surprised that so many people were interested in his story while adjusting the Purple Heart hanging around his neck. He shared that while he still has flashbacks and may never be able to find forgiveness, this past year has been his hardest by far. He lost his wife of 74 years and said that living without her is the toughest thing he’s ever had to endure, adding that he didn’t know if he would make it past Christmas. As tears started falling a few of his buddies within earshot immediately joined our conversation, offering support that could only come from a fellow Veteran. They insisted that the “lonely boys” be with each other at Christmas, one (half-jokingly) adding that he had to be alive for the next Veterans Coffee in January as they would be riding together.

These community events and activities only happen because of the loving service and dedication of our We Honor Veterans partners. Ann Gauthreaux of Hospice & Palliative CareCenter and Rowan Hospice & Palliative Care is one of the forces behind this partner program and nicely summed up the importance of their program activities:

“To say our Veteran Coffees are well attended and heartwarming would be an understatement. They have become a part of life for our region’s veterans. A place to share stories, find common ground, and enjoy comradery. The expression; ‘If you build it – they will come’ has never seemed more appropriate. We make sure they know about our programs and services, yet it’s so much more. The coffees are a melting pot for all veterans and things related to veterans!”

To learn more about the We Honor Veterans program, visit  or contact us at

By Katherine Kemp
Access Manager, NHPCO

Monday, December 19, 2016

Palliative Care and Changing Policy Landscape

NHPCO was invited to submit an article to the American Journal of Managed Care about policy issues related to palliative care. The article is available online. "With the incoming Trump Administration and a new Congress about to begin, the future of palliative care policy is very uncertain," reports Sharon Pearce, NHPCO vice president for public policy.

In the article, “Palliative Care for Patients With Advanced Illness: A Changing Policy Landscape,” published this week by the American Journal of Managed Care, Pearce shares insight into possible policy implications for palliative care in the year ahead.

The article begins:  “Every day, 10,000 Americans join the Social Security and Medicare rolls. Moreover, individuals 80 and older are the fastest growing demographic among older adults, with their ranks forecast to grow from 5.6 million in 2010 to more than 19 million by 2050. The rising number of aging Americans creates a commensurate increase in the costs for healthcare.”

Pearce goes on to explain the value of the interdisciplinary team model of care provision and the importance of providing palliative care services to the seriously ill. Many barriers are challenging access to these services, however, progress is being made.

“In lieu of sweeping policy changes, palliative care advocates have adopted a more incremental approach. Recent policy changes, primarily in the ACA, are allowing small-scale testing of community-based palliative care delivery, and for some innovations in other delivery systems. Other administrative changes are slowly increasing access to Advance Care Planning. While many of these demonstrations are still playing out, some models, including the Medicare Care Choices Model (MCCM), accountable care organizations (ACOs), and the Independence at Home Demonstration, are showing early promise.”

Read the complete article on the AJMC website.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thank You from Don Schumacher

When I began my professional career, 44 years ago, I never would have guessed the unique, surprising, fulfilling and meaningful career that would unfold before me. I was going to be an English professor, but my contact with Elizabeth Kubler Ross in 1975 put my feet on an entirely different path. I have been able to work with the most extraordinary people to create a model of caregiving that had been missing in our healthcare system for a very long time. These people, of which you are one, have been my teachers, critics, friends, conspirators, pranksters, dining and drinking friends and most importantly, fellow advocates ensuring the permanence of hospice and palliative care in America.

As I prepare to retire from NHPCO, I want to thank you for all you have done for the millions of Americans who have received your loving care. There is no one who stands at the bedside of a dying patient and remains untouched. I remember the first patients I cared for and the hospice team members with whom I shared my fears, energy and skill at helping that patient move on. I thank them and their descendants, you, for all you have done and continue to do for the millions who benefit from our care.

I want to thank the many of you who I have been lucky to call friends. The path has not always been smooth, and all of us have tried to be as supportive of each other as we can. However, when you are creating a movement, a new care giving model and a team based model of care, things are bound to go wrong. Pay no mind, I ask you. For what we have created went more right.

I will continue to consult with programs and people in the field so I hope to continue to see you occasionally. But…… remember every day you work in hospice and palliative care, you are building the bed you will die in. Make sure it is the one you want. From the bottom of my heart, I honor you for what you do every day. Love---


J. Donald Schumacher, PsyD
President and CEO
National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization

P.S.  I have a link I would like to share with you, Judy Collins singing "In My Life," a song that has always held special meaning for me, particularly in recent weeks. Additionally, a special NHPCO Podcast has been posted where I share reflections from my career.  I invite you to listen to both of these.

Monday, December 12, 2016

MedPAC – December 2016

It’s that time of year again, everyone! The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, held its December meeting last week, and started hearing a series of reports that will ultimately inform the annual March Report to Congress. Among the reports the Commission heard was “Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: hospice services.” In this report, MedPAC staff provided an overview of the Medicare Hospice Benefit and recent changes to end-of-life care (like the Medicare Care Choice Model demonstration). The staff also presented data on the average length of stay  and live discharge rates by different beneficiary characteristics and provider types. You can view the slides and transcript from the hospice session on the MedPAC website.

Each report ends with a Chairman’s recommendation. For hospice, the recommendation is:
“The Congress should eliminate the update to the hospice payment rates for fiscal year 2018.”
MedPAC has made this same payment update recommendation to Congress for the past 4 years, at minimum. There is one important thing to remember about MedPAC, however. As its name indicates, MedPAC is an advisory commission to Congress. Congress must take proactive steps to implement MedPAC recommendations, and it has not done so with regard to the payment update recommendation in recent years.
However, Congress does read the reports and once policy proposals are made, they live forever. You can never rule out Congress acting on recommendations now or in the future. Keep an eye out for more updates from MedPAC as the release of their annual report approaches.

By Karen Davis, MA
Manager, Health Policy Analysis

Follow the Hospice Action Network blog for additional articles of interest. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December 1 is World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is a global initiative to raise awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. World AIDS Day is December 1. Around the world, about 37 million people are living with HIV. In the United States, about 44,000 people get infected with HIV every year.

In recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion encourages everyone to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In the United States, about 1 in 8 people who has HIV doesn’t know it. The only way to know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get tested. You could have HIV and still feel healthy. 

Everyone ages 15 to 65 needs to get tested at least once. Some people may need to get tested more often. To find an HIV testing location near you, text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566948) or use this online locator (

HIV is passed from one person to another by:
  • Having unprotected sex with a person who has HIV
  • Sharing needles with someone who has HIV
  • Breastfeeding, pregnancy, or childbirth if the mother has HIV
  • Getting a transfusion of blood that’s infected with HIV (very rare in the United States)
Learn more about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent this disease from the following websites: