When my father was in the last year of his life, after a stroke rendered him unable to speak or eat solid food, my siblings and I made the difficult decision of enrolling him in hospice. Based on a friend’s experiences as a hospice volunteer more than two decades ago, I expected hospice workers who would spend time with him, comfort him and make sure he was never in pain.
But what I encountered were overworked and over-stressed staff. Although the hospice we hired had promised nurses coming every day, in reality they would come irregularly and stay a short amount of time, because they had many more patients to treat. We were promised spiritual counselors who never materialized. The social worker who seemed to genuinely care about my dad took me aside one day to tell me she was leaving the company because she was being asked to take on more clients than she could handle, and so was unable to give clients the care and compassion she thought they deserved.
It wasn’t always like this. When hospice was first started (by a British nurse in 1967), it was largely maintained by volunteers, people dedicated to comforting the dying. But a hospice system that was largely composed of caring volunteers changed when Medicare started paying for hospice care, and lot of businesses got stars in their eyes about how much money they could make off dying people. The result has been what you would expect: cost-cutting measures, mainly cutting back staff, to increase profits.Continue reading “Profiting from the Dying”