What is a Hospice Chaplain?

First, it’s important to explain what hospice is. I first became personally involved in hospice care as a family member, when my brother John entered hospice care after declining chemotherapy for late Stage 4 liver cancer. He made the choice to live his last months as free from pain as possible. He was able to have seven more months. I met with his nurse {weekly} and social worker (monthly) with him at his apartment. He also met with a hospice chaplain (also called a spiritual counselor) on his own, but often shared parts of their conversation with me.

Hospice is a program for people who generally have six months or less to live (doctor’s estimate). The care takes place in the patient’s home usually, but can also take place in a nursing home setting. Some hospice programs have their own facilities as well.

The idea behind hospice care is to allow a person to receive care where they live, without having to enter a hospital. Under the directing doctor’s supervision, the hospice nurse provides home access for all of the medications that the patient requires to live pain-free (or as close as possible). The patient’s condition is monitored, and more home visits may be set up as needed. There are other services available through hospice, such as assistance with showering and other home needs. All of the patient’s needs are met and delivered through the hospice program.

Often, doctors refer their patients to hospice care. There are a number of programs available in a given area, and the choice is up to the patient and family.

The hospice chaplain, or spiritual counselor, initially meets with the patient at their request. A home visit is done, and an initial spiritual evaluation is completed. This helps the chaplain and patient set up a plan of service, involving home visits, prayers, sharing, and phone calls. The chaplain is also available to support the family if requested.

People facing their own end of life may have unmet desires, concerns for loved ones, fears and doubts, and questions. This forms the basis of conversation with the chaplain. Repeated conversations develop into a safe place for these topics to be discussed.

As the end of life approaches, the chaplain is available to sit bedside with the family and pray. After the patient’s transition, the chaplain helps with the memorial service if requested.

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