Published on Jan 21, 2021

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. COVID has killed nearly 400,000 people. Many of those persons have died without loved ones. Many of them have been unexpected-- find one minute, and a couple days later, have deceased.

How do we deal with the feelings, particularly of bereavement? To help address this, I've asked Carole Fisher, the president of the National Partnership for Health Care and Hospice Innovation, and Jennifer Baldwin, a grief counselor at Capital Caring Health. Ladies, thanks for joining me.

CAROLE FISHER: Thank you so much for having us, John.

JENNIFER BALDWIN: Yeah, thank you.

JOHN WHYTE: Carole, we've talked a lot about caregiving, addressing the issue when family members are in the hospital. But we haven't talked enough on this show about the issue of bereavement. And you've been very much involved with issues of bereavement as it relates to typically hospice care. But for our audience, can you talk about what we mean by bereavement as well as the bereavement benefit that exists for some patients and their families?

CAROLE FISHER: Well, grief comes in many shapes and sizes. It's an experience that one has from a loss, a traumatic loss. And losing a loved one is certainly in the top tier of traumatic loss. And so what we're finding today during this pandemic-- that many people are having very similar reactions to the pandemic as if they had lost a loved one in addition to losing loved ones. So it's quite an interesting time for all of us at end-of-life care and hospice providers.

JOHN WHYTE: Do people know about this benefit?

CAROLE FISHER: People know about the benefit, John. It's a great question because hospice is often misunderstood and really viewed in a narrow way. People know about the benefit when they come on and their family member comes on to hospice. We certainly, all of us, educate those family members to understand that they're entitled to benefits after their loved one has passed.

But what people don't know is that we pride ourselves on being experts in grief and loss. It's really at the foundation of all that we do, grief and loss counseling. So sometimes, we are very well-kept secret. But we're often called upon by community members when there's a traumatic event, a traumatic issue.

It could be a mass shooting. God forbid that that happens. It could be with hurricanes. So a variety of things will trigger our community partners to call upon us for assistance.

JOHN WHYTE: But we don't want to keep it a secret anymore.

CAROLE FISHER: We don't want to.

JOHN WHYTE: You're extending this benefit beyond hospice because many people didn't even have the opportunity, in some ways, to enter hospice-- isn't that right-- as it relates to COVID?

CAROLE FISHER: Yeah, that is so right. And we can't thank you enough for bringing attention to all the people in the country that this benefit exists. So we have over 72 members nationwide-- as I mentioned, some of our most notable community hospice and palliative care organizations. And many of those, a majority of those, are offering very unique services, very independent from the hospice benefit, to support their community members.

JOHN WHYTE: And Jenn, I want to ask you, being very practical, how does it work? Because I would assume that pre-COVID, you would meet with families. You would meet with loved ones. Can't do that right now. So how do you provide these services in the setting of our public health mitigation strategies, particularly relating to social distancing?

JENNIFER BALDWIN: That's a great question. And at Capital Caring, we were able to pivot quite seamlessly and quickly to the online platform. And that brought both positive outcomes-- we were able to meet with many more families and people, individuals, than I think ever before, because they are easily able to access the online platform. They don't have to leave their home. They can jump in during their workday and really utilize, in a sense, self-care more readily.

And I think some of the challenges, though, with pivoting so quickly and going online is we are definitely missing the in-person space of being with somebody who is grieving. There's so much, just being in proximity with another person, unspoken comfort that can be provided. But again, the clinical counselors with Capital Caring are figuring out ways to connect online.

JOHN WHYTE: How does it work? As you and I talked about-- and I'll be honest. I did not know that much about it as a clinician. It's not simply a one-hour phone call. It's a benefit that continues over time. Help our viewers understand what it entails and how they indeed could benefit from the service.

JENNIFER BALDWIN: Sure. Grief counselors provide short-term counseling. And what that looks like is someone can reach out through our website, can call Capital Caring and talk to someone who will refer them to the grief counselor. And we will provide an initial meeting. And all of these services are free of charge.

And so we meet with a person. We figure out, what do they need? What sort of modality or tool through our grief and loss supports would best fit where they are in their grief journey? So we provide-- it can be individual counseling where someone would meet with a grief counselor, up to 10 sessions, for free, again.

And we also provide workshops, quite an array of workshops and drop-in groups and just traditional support groups. So we really have quite a robust program to meet everybody on this very individual yet very collective grief journey right now.

JOHN WHYTE: And Carole, is this service available across the country?

CAROLE FISHER: Absolutely. We have 72 providers across the country. We have a toll-free number, and Jenn will leave you with that. So people that are watching can call one of our members in an area that's near their home location.

JOHN WHYTE: Carole, tell us the toll-free number, because sometimes viewers are visually impaired as well.

CAROLE FISHER: Yeah. So 844-438-6744. That's our toll-free number-- 844-GET-NPHI. But that's a lot to remember. And we'll make sure that we continue to talk about that and promote that toll-free number. And someone has to do-- a viewer has to do that's experiencing grief and loss, call that number, and they will be facilitated to an organization near their home location.

We raised over-- gosh-- $157 million a year in care. Collectively, all of our hospice organizations, our members raise that much a year to support uncompensated care, programs and services that aren't funded by anyone. So we use these dollars to support these efforts.

JOHN WHYTE: And it's a free service?

CAROLE FISHER: It's a free service, yeah.

JOHN WHYTE: And it's not just for COVID because in some instances, COVID has just exacerbated potential feelings of grief because loved ones may not have been able to be present at the time of someone's death. Is that correct? So it's really any disease or condition.

CAROLE FISHER: That is correct. And we don't judge what that condition is. If you're having grief and loss, we're here to support you. We understand that 40% of everyone living in this country today is impacted by some type of mental health issue or drug and alcohol addiction type of issue. And grief and loss, John, is underlying that. It's at the foundation of that mental health crisis, that issue. So grief and loss really wreaks havoc on people during normal times, but during a pandemic, even more so.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to ask you both, how do we help viewers who might be experiencing grief and loss recognize that it's time to ask for a little bit of help? How do we get them to start thinking about that? Jenn, how do you get folks to reach out? Because we don't want to just wait until they actually do reach out. That's important.

But we also want to encourage folks. Go ahead. Give a call. Log online. Ask for some help to deal with your feelings because grief is a natural feeling after loss. So when does it become a point when you need to ask for help?

JENNIFER BALDWIN: That is a really good question, John. I think, first of all, it makes me think of how we normalize this feeling of grief, and especially now. So many people are impacted by a death of a loved one, by the death of someone in their community. And so in the past, death and dying has been very taboo. And so there's this thought of, I must keep a very strong front and not show my emotions.

And now I would say, you know what? There's so much research out there about expressing these feelings of grief, expressing the sadness. Sometimes people show their grief in anger, frustration. So it can really encompass so many different feelings and expressions. So again, I would just say normalizing it. These are normal feelings that everyone, really, collectively is going through in the world.

JOHN WHYTE: And Carole, when should people reach out?

CAROLE FISHER: I think we see-- when people are experiencing unexplained physical issues, when they have headaches that won't go away, when they have physical symptoms that won't go away, when people can't sleep. Those are signs of physical manifestations from grief and loss. And so please reach out and call. No one should have to deal with this alone.

JOHN WHYTE: Doesn't hurt to call. There's no cost to it. It doesn't mean that you have to continue on it, but at least you can call and learn more. Carole, I also wanted to ask you about the impact of age. And are services different if you are a teenager or someone young who has unfortunately lost a parent, or the other way around, a parent who has lost a child? How do these services differ then?

CAROLE FISHER: So MPHI members, our 72 members across the country, never refuse anyone because of age, race, religion. Everyone is an equal-opportunity participant when it comes to grief and loss. The majority of the people that we care for, certainly, John, are people that have lost a parent, a grandparent. But with COVID so rampant and with the loss to families for unemployment and problems with getting food on the table-- I mean, we're seeing grief and loss in all populations, no matter what the age is. And we will help anyone.

JOHN WHYTE: And Jenn, what about people that might be listening and saying, well, I don't need to talk to anybody. It's just talk. Why might they need this, and how is it different than just simply talking to someone?

JENNIFER BALDWIN: So I think one of the biggest things that I hear from folks is, wow, I didn't know that this was weighing on my mind when they come and talk. They think, oh, my grief is not-- I'm doing OK. But once they have the space with somebody who is allowing for this safe expression and letting them tell their narrative, letting them tell their grief story, it really does bring about this shift in how they are thinking about their grief and recognizing how it may be affecting them from day to day.

And then also, providing some coping skills-- maybe there are things that they can do that they haven't thought about, or maybe there are things that they're already doing that can really enhance this healing and dealing with their grief.

JOHN WHYTE: And Carole, what has COVID taught us about loss and grief?

CAROLE FISHER: Well, I think we've learned so much and. I think from our programs, we've learned that we have a moral obligation, John, a moral obligation to care for people, no matter what the issue is. We have over 1,000 caregivers or professional caregivers that are experienced in grief and loss, and we have an obligation to care for them.

JOHN WHYTE: Is it worse with COVID not just because of the magnitude of deaths that we're seeing, but also because many of them have died alone and how hard it is to address that? Talk to us about what those feelings are that people are experiencing.

CAROLE FISHER: Our caregivers are so well trained and so skilled at leaving their personal life behind and coming to the bedside and caring for a patient and their loved ones and being there to support them. And so the stress and strain that our caregivers are under today-- going to bedside with no families present-- it's just unthinkable. And so we're seeing the burden, the fatigue just rampant right now for everyone.

JOHN WHYTE: Remind us again where viewers can reach out to learn about bereavement services.

CAROLE FISHER: So they can dial our toll-free number at 1-844-438-6744.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, I want to thank you both for providing these services, for making us aware of these services, and really helping folks who are experiencing tremendous loss during this pandemic.

CAROLE FISHER: Thank you. Thank you for your commitment and for your support of our organization.

JENNIFER BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.