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End-of-life comfort evolves in an age of physical distancing

Allina Health's hospice program has made virtual options available, as social distancing forces changes.

It's hard to think about, let alone talk about, but anyone with a loved one who is nearing the end of their life knows how hard it is to not spend their final days with them.

How do you deliver emotional care to seniors and end-of-life patients when you can not physically be with them? 

Allina Health is working to close the gap. 

Erin Fox is a music therapist with Allina's Hospice program, and because of COVID-19, the program has changed. 

"People are more isolated than ever," Fox said. "COVID restrictions have really pushed a pause button in many ways."

The soundtrack of providing comfort hasn't stopped. Now, its virtual. Connecting though using iPads, Zoom and FaceTime to provide care and comfort during life's last chapter. 

"Providing comfort to patients who are in the last six months of life, and the medical care is really focused on caring for pain and symptom management," said Julia Crist, who runs the Allina Hospice program.

"Many of our patients now are dying alone," said Steven Robertson, who serves as a chaplain with the program. "We have staff which includes nurses, social workers, chaplains, who make every effort to be with that patient, to hold their hand."

RELATED: COVID-19 changed the way we say goodbye

"We walk with people and help them find meaning in their time of death," Robertson added. "I think what COVID-19 has done is made us realize the importance of communication, and the importance of listening. I can be with a patient, and to listen to them on the phone is quite different than being with them bedside."

Listening, he discovered, just as important as holding someone's hand. 

"By befriending him and by just listening to his conversation, I came to realize that what he was afraid of, and what he finally admitted to, he wasn't afraid of dying, he was afraid to die alone. He wanted someone to be there with him when that time came," Robertson described about one man. "That's what I'm learning through this COVID-19. That we are together and not alone, even though this does feel so isolating."

"I think we are in the process of discovering strengths that we didn't know we had," Fox said.

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