By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Most people try not to think about their own death or the death of their loved ones, but it is an inevitable conversation. Everyone one day will die and when that happens one can only hope they die with dignity and surrounded by love.
Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care is a hospice organization that works with people to ensure that their loved ones die a peaceful and high-quality death with honor and hope.
However, through a 2017 study by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Seasons realized that not all people received a “high quality death.”
According to Nicole McCann-Davis, the national director for communications and multicultural affairs at Seasons, a high-quality death is a personalized experience and depends on the individual.
It typically takes place where the dying person wishes to take their last breath, she explained. This can include being surrounded by loved ones, music, prayers and more. Often times, a high-quality death even includes funeral arrangements.
“The opposite of a high-quality death is simply a death that is undignified, as defined by the patient’s view of dignity and peace,” McCann-Davis wrote in in an email.
The aforementioned study reported that only 8% of Medicare hospice patients who died a high-quality death were African American and only 6% were Latinx. In the press release, Seasons noted that the racial and systemic barriers that exist in so many places also exist in the hospice system. The organization is hoping to change that.
“Every person has their own unique needs. This may be tied to their cultural traditions, health beliefs or personal experiences,” McCann-Davis said. “It’s important to remember that people of the same background don’t always identify in similar ways or carry the same beliefs.”
When working with African American patients, McCann-Davis said Seasons takes into consideration the health care disparities that have affected the African American community for generations. Based on that history, Seasons strives to create a place of trust with its African American patients.
McCann-Davis said appointments are never rushed and that extended relatives are offered the opportunity to be a part of the conversation. She added that some people, especially members of the African American community can be uncomfortable talking about death and Seasons works to ensure that everyone at the table feels comfortable.
“These are sensitive and personal discussion and should be handled respectfully with a focus on honoring the needs and wishes of each patient and family,” she said.
Seasons also makes an effort to serve older members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Over the years, the laws have evolved but the LGBTQ community and their allies are still fighting to this day,” McCann-Davis said, adding that many hospice patients recall the Stonewall Riots as the unofficial beginning of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
McCann-Davis said it is important to establish a relationship with LGBTQ elders.
“It’s important to build trust and understand what will make them comfortable and who they’d like to be present during their hospice journey,” she said.
On its journey to ensure it offers culturally competent care, McCann-Davis said Seasons partners directly with members of the underserved communities to hear from them. It also offers education to staff members and focuses on connecting and learning about a patient’s cultural needs.