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Message from Edo Banach on Sunday’s New York Times Essay

January 9, 2018

Let us take this situation as an opportunity for all of us
to remember our commitment to quality and excellence.

I’m sure that many providers have seen the essay that ran in The New York Times Sunday Review this past weekend, “This Was Not the Good Death We Were Promised.”  Journalist Karen Brown shared her family’s personal experience with hospice surrounding her father’s death.  For those who have not seen the opinion piece, the experience did not end well. Ms. Brown did acknowledge the good care that was provided while her father was stable; however, when her father’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse and he was in great pain and actively dying, the hospice failed to provide the service that was promised and expected. 

This is a situation where excuses will not change this family’s experience.  And I know that no provider would find the situation she described as acceptable. 

As noted in the article, I spoke with Ms. Brown.  I let her know that the situation she described was not acceptable and I would not make excuses for it.  I also explained that her experience is not that of most patients and families. 

Hospice has come a long way in the 35 years since the creation of the Medicare hospice benefit.  More people are accessing care, hospices are serving a wider range of patients with diagnoses beyond cancer, and there is a greater number of providers from which people can get care.  Yet, Ms. Brown’s story reminds us that we can never stop in our efforts to provide the highest quality care possible at all times. 

There will always be experiences that do not go as planned, despite the best intention. We must make sure that we learn from situations that are below our standards and make necessary adjustments to ensure preventable problems don’t happen again. As an example from this experience, providers should ensure that on-call processes are well established and that necessary back-up plans are in place. No family should fail to get a timely returned call from a hospice and a prompt visit when indicated, especially during a crisis situation.

I was moved by the number of hospice professionals that posted responses to this essay on the NY Times website. They acknowledged this situation was a failure. Many readers also shared individual reflections on personal hospice experiences that were very positive; this high level of care is something that I have seen provided by so many of you all across the country. 

As a provider community, we must be sure that we take this family’s experience and use it as a learning opportunity.  We must be careful that we don’t use this “hospice failure” to disparage other provider types. Ms. Brown made a specific choice not to share the name of the hospice. Let us take this situation as an opportunity for all of us to remember our commitment to quality and excellence.

Respectfully,

Edo

Edo Banach, JD
President and CEO
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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