Work of hospice continues under challenging conditions

By David Ross | Escondido Times – Advocate | March 27, 2020

The job of the Escondido-based Elizabeth Hospice continues unabated in the current coronavirus crisis—just under more challenging circumstances.

The Times-Advocate Tuesday spoke to Sarah S. McSpadden, President/Chief Operating Officer of the Elizabeth Hospice, which, she said, has started to operate like a virtual business.

“We have patients all over San Diego county. We’re not like a hospital” said McSpadden. The hospice provides care from five locations with staff members who are very familiar with working remotely. Of course, they also visit their patients to provide hospice care, but “As of today our staff is doing virtual visits, using telephone video conferencing with patients and families,” she said. “That’s a big change for them. It’s different for the patients and the staff. Some visits we are still doing in person because patients have good days and bad days and require physical assistance from staff.”

Staff members do use protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and gowns. “We are watching carefully to make sure that our patients and staff are protected,” said McSpadden, “They do screenings to see if they have symptoms of COVID-19.” So far only one hospice patient has been positively diagnosed with the virus. “We’ve got more than 500 patient in the county that we are caring for. We are in all the local hospitals and quite a few of the nursing facilities, board and care and people’s homes.”

Besides “virtual” meetings with some patients, the staff of the hospice are also holding virtual staff meetings at the beginning of the day. “We listen to the presidential briefs and the state and county information.” They review federal guidelines and the hospice rules that allow them to do virtual care.

Each day a newsletter goes out to the close to 300 staff members, who are employees. There are also hundreds of volunteers, but during the crisis many of them are sheltering in place because of their age. “Volunteers are not working with patients now. They are doing some indirect services. Some want to sew masks for staff members.”

Staff members are often subject to a condition known as “compassion fatigue,” which isn’t like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) but is rather “an ongoing phenomenon of a drain based on giving, giving, giving,” said McSpadden. “It’s hard to fill that up. Some lose five to ten patients a day.” To help them deal with compassion fatigue the hospice has been holding some classes for staff. “We had a class on compassion fatigue that we did virtually. Our staff members are caring people that run into the fire more than running away.”

Elizabeth Hospice periodically holds training classes for prospective volunteers. Those classes will be held remotely until the coronavirus restrictions are lifted. “We are also doing some orientation for new employees. At some point they will physically walk through our doors. We are considered an essential service but those that could work from home were moved to their homes on Friday.”

Elizabeth Hospice has partnered with the California Hospice Network, which is a partnership of nonprofit hospices. Elizabeth Hospice donated masks and gowns to member hospices in Northern California that were short on them. “Working with a lot of hospices in a network is helpful. We do a lot of things together. It was nice that our team was able to share some of our personal protective equipment with another hospice that needed it,” said McSpadden.

“The impact of not working has not impacted us, which has been good for our staff and morale,” she concluded.

To learn more about Elizabeth Hospice call 800-797-2050 or visit

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