Understand beliefs about death at admission

Plan to ensure respect for family's customs

When evaluating your hospice's ability to reach different segments of your community's population, don't forget that you must be able to meet their needs prior to and after death.

A key component of serving people of different cultures and religions that is not often discussed is the post-death care, says Dale Knee, MHCA, president and chief executive officer of Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, FL. Someone's religious or cultural customs regarding the care of the body following death are just as important as how they believe they should be cared for during life, he says.

"We identify these needs early in the admission process to make sure we are prepared to honor the patient's wishes," Knee reports. Customs that vary might involve care of the body before it is removed from the house, funeral arrangements, type of visitation, and timing of activities.

"Our hospice nurses always stay with the patient after death, until the funeral home arrives, but we make sure that we respect the wishes and beliefs of the family as much as possible," says Knee. Whether or not a nonfamily member can be present, or if the people present have to be a specific gender, is discussed up front, he says.

Sometimes the family's beliefs might exclude a staff member or volunteer who has cared for the patient, but the staff members understand the family's reasons, says Knee. Because he and his staff know the family's wishes before the time of death, staff members have a chance to discuss the issues and find a way to resolve them to the benefit of the patient's family, he adds. For example, if the family's religious beliefs do not allow a male to help prepare a female patient for transport to the funeral home, the agency can ensure a female nurse is present at death, he explains.