COVID-19: Working on the New Normal for Grief and Bereavement
“Ohio’s Hospice and its affiliates are still working on the new normal when it comes to grief and bereavement services for the community,” says Lisa Balster, MA, MBA, LSW, FT, director of Patient and Family Support Services for Ohio’s Hospice.
The pandemic initially wreaked havoc on the broad grief and bereavement program at each Ohio’s Hospice affiliate and associate member. In-person, one-on-one, and group counseling sessions were canceled. Children’s summer grief camps were canceled. Community-wide memorial and remembrance ceremonies were canceled.
But Ohio’s Hospice grief counselors quickly pivoted and began to shape the new normal.
“Fortunately, we have a really strong individual counseling program,” Balster explains. “It’s our forte. We do it for children, teens and adults.”
And with chaplains and social workers on patient care teams being limited in the private homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities they could visit, they moved right over to reaching out with calls to the bereaved, according to Renee Sparks, general manager and executive vice president for Ohio’s Hospice of Central Ohio. Prior to the pandemic, she adds, it could prove difficult for grief counselors to reach the bereaved by phone. “But during COVID, we’ve seen a definite increase in the number of people accepting a phone call and the amount of time they were willing to spend on the phone with our grief counselors. It’s been a big change, a huge impact,” she says.
Balster prefers the individual grief counseling model for children and adults beginning their grief journey. “The newly bereaved are not in a place to share. But as time goes on, they would have something to give and to receive in a group session,” she says. “While for-profit hospices have proliferated throughout Ohio, few, if any, offer the individual counseling that Ohio’s Hospice provides — in or out of a pandemic.”
The various children’s grief camps at Ohio’s Hospice affiliate and associate members have been most sorely missed in this year of the pandemic. In some cases, grief counselors put together a combination of individual activities and video calls to hold virtual grief camps for participants and their parents or guardians.
But while the pandemic initially upset grief programs, it wasn’t long before it was busier than normal for the more than a dozen grief and bereavement counselors at Ohio’s Hospice. Balster shares, “We’ve been able to make our time count in a much more efficient way. No windshield time, more time for counseling. I think we’re going to learn some things while we’re busy doing this.”