How Funeral Professionals Can Build Relationships with Hospices (Part 2)

In last week’s post, I explained how hospice care professionals sometimes serve as “gatekeepers” for a significant number of families who need funeral service. Instead of being a negative attribute, however, this presents opportunities to forge lasting professional relationships and identify clients who will benefit from your services.

Perhaps more importantly, gatekeepers can help you identify changing needs and preferences among your potential client base. Hospice care providers have a direct line to the very families you hope to serve and can provide insight into their attitudes, beliefs and desires. With this information, you can better develop products and services to meet needs and grow your business.

The hospice perspective

Creating meaningful relationships with hospice takes time. Like all good relationships, they start with mutual understanding. What follows are some key hospice perspectives based on my experience as a hospice professional. I would encourage you to view these as simply a starting point and remember that like all perspectives, they will vary from organization to organization. That’s why it’s so important to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Hospice caregivers are advocates for their patients and families. Caregivers feel a strong sense of responsibility for ensuring their patients and families receive the best care and highest levels of respect. Any sense, or perceived sense, that the patients and families they are working with are being treated badly, unfairly or are being taken advantage of will result in that protective instinct kicking into high gear.

This presents both great challenges and opportunities to the funeral service professional. It takes effort, but once you’ve put in the time to develop a relationship based on mutual trust, you’ll find hospice caregivers will consider you a great partner in serving their patients and families.

Hospices fought a long, hard battle for respect. While it may seem like hospice is everywhere, this wasn’t always the case. As few as 15 years ago when I began my career as a hospice professional, many parts of our county experienced hospice usage rates of less than 20% of all deaths. The service was considered “fringe” by many healthcare providers who assumed there was little actual medical practice in hospice.

Hospice professionals have long tenure and longer memories. It doesn’t take much to activate that old “fight” response. When hospice professionals perceive their expertise isn’t respected, they will see little value in the relationship.

Hospices value collaboration. “Continuum of Care” is a phrase often used in senior care, and hospice is no exception. The concept is one that encourages significant collaboration on the part of the various healthcare professionals working with an individual patient. When a patient enters hospice, these caregivers are responsible for coordinating all the care required for that patient’s end-of-life needs. The multi-disciplinary care team oversees basic needs like pain and symptom management, psychosocial and spiritual needs, housekeeping and volunteer support, but also extends to complementary services such as music or massage therapy. In addition, the team will work with facility staff should the patient reside in long-term care or assisted living. Collaboration is key to achieving top-quality results for patients and families.

In my experience, hospices most appreciate working with funeral service professionals who take a collaborative approach. Having meaningful conversation about the transition to funeral care will likely be appreciated and might include everything from the how the removal might take place to what the family dynamics are to whether the funeral home will provide bereavement support.

Planning – with a lot of flexibility – is key to a successful outcome. Much like funeral service professions, hospice care providers understand they only have one chance to provide a patient with the best possible end-of-life experience. The care team works closely with the patient and family to understand any goals or desires the patient has. They do their best to anticipate any challenges which might arise and plan ways to overcome those. Most importantly, they understand that time is limited. If they have to change course or if an unanticipated issue arises, addressing it will be top priority.

A willingness to go above and beyond is valued by hospice professionals. That might be as simple as agreeing to meet with a family in their home because they are unable to get to the funeral home or as difficult as helping honor an unusual memorial request on short notice.

How can funeral professionals form better relationships with hospice? The key is in more completely understanding hospice care and the families it serves. Only then will we have the information and tools needed to create meaningful partnerships and join together in mutual passion for serving families.

This post was adapted from the article “How Hospice is Changing Funeral Service,” which originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Director.

Kim Medici Shelquist is the Senior VP – Planning & Development for Homesteaders Life Company. In her previous position as a hospice professional, she encouraged people to discuss their wishes to ensure they had the best possible end-of-life experiences that reflected their values. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.

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