FAQs about Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Hospice
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak presents a difficult and uncertain period for healthcare professionals, patients and families in communities around the country.
As the leading provider and trusted resource for end-of-life care, VITAS takes seriously its commitment to provide up-to-date, easy-to-understand information on the virus, its impact, and our evolving organizational response to the situation.
These frequently asked questions provide information about safety protocols for staff, patients, and families in our facilities and under our care.
As the situation changes and our handling of COVID-19 evolves, this FAQ will be updated to reflect the latest information available to us.
Does VITAS accept patients who are positive with COVID-19?
Our team members are trained and prepared to provide care should you refer a hospice-eligible patient who has COVID-19.
Hospice-eligible patients with COVID-19 will be assessed based on hospice program supply of necessary PPE (N-95 mask, goggles or face shield, and gown) to ensure the safety of our staff, patients, and families.
The VITAS mission and core values stem from years of supporting our partners to care for hospice-eligible patients regardless of diagnosis, complexity, acuity, or social circumstance.
Do hospice patients with known or suspected COVID-19 infection require hospitalization?
COVID-19, like any other infection, requires an individualized approach to care.
The VITAS care team talks with patients and families to understand their wishes and values, which become part of care plans so that care goals are honored.
The majority of patients near the end of life want to be at home and out of the hospital. We can generally manage patients in their setting of choice with supportive measures and care.
Will the VITAS care team help to relieve coronavirus symptoms in an infected patient?
VITAS care teams are experts in managing symptoms commonly experienced near the end of life.
Many of these symptoms are also common with coronavirus, including fever, shortness of breath, and cough. VITAS incorporates pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments to help alleviate these symptoms while ensuring patient, family, and staff safety.
Are elderly patients at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
Older adults remain at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
Data also documents that 8 of 10 deaths from COVID-19 occur in persons over the age of 65. As such, older adults must practice caution by staying at home, performing good hand hygiene, and avoiding close contact with others.
How will VITAS staff visit patients safely during the COVID-19 pandemic?
VITAS staff will continue to adhere to established screening protocols to assess the risks of infection spread through each patient encounter.
With the advent of COVID-19, these protocols continue to evolve as we strive to keep our patients, families and staff safe.
As always, care team members follow all universal safety precautions and incorporate US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and state/local health departments guidance regarding personal protective equipment (PPE). Appropriate PPE varies with each individual situation and may include gloves, masks, shields, and/or gowns.
We also follow protocols and mandates from the facilities we serve, including nursing homes, assisted living communities, care homes for the elderly, etc.
Are some hospice facilities closing or fully quarantined due to coronavirus?
Each facility sets its own status based on state/local health department directions or their current situation.
Please contact the specific facility to find out its current status and guidelines.
If your loved one is receiving care at a VITAS inpatient unit or VITAS Suites, use our location search to locate the facility and its phone number.
What is VITAS doing to make sure patients are safe if they are getting hospice care in their homes during the coronavirus outbreak?
We are adhering to safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and state/local health departments.
We also screen patients for risk of COVID-19 with specific guidance to decrease likelihood of exposure for patients, family, and staff.
VITAS team members take their temperature twice daily and monitor themselves for respiratory symptoms and are directed to seek medical attention and not work if experiencing any of these or are not feeling well.
- What are the considerations when caring for a hospice patient in their home during the coronavirus outbreak? During periods of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, family members and close friends continue to provide daily care. Caregivers should develop habits and strategies to maintain their own health and well-being. This helps to both limit viral transmission and to avoid the ever-present risk of caregiver burnout.
Does VITAS test for COVID-19?
For patients, VITAS follows the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CMS) and state/local health departments that are based upon many factors such as test availability, facility concerns, and the impact of a test result altering the care plan.
For employees, test decisions are based upon their physicians’ judgment.
During the coronavirus outbreak, can VITAS help with extra supply needs for patients and families—things like wipes, incontinence supplies, gloves, and face masks?
As always, our team members will do whatever we can to meet the needs of our patients and families.
For 80 percent of our locations, VITAS maintains its own home medical equipment (HME), delivery and staff. In places where we do not supply our own medical equipment, we work with local suppliers who meet our exacting standards.
Will VITAS team members care for patients in facilities that are not allowing families to visit due to coronavirus?
Guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requests that facilities ensure residents receive the necessary end of life care, which includes hospice. This recommendation enables hospice staff to visit and care for patients in facilities.
Each facility has unique visiting requirements, and we work with our facility partners to schedule visits so we can take care of each patient’s needs. Please contact the facility directly for specific information.
If a patient gets hospice care in a facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, can family members go into the facility with the VITAS team?
VITAS team members will be following all guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and local and state health departments. VITAS is also following all facility-mandated visiting rules.
If the facility is not allowing family members to visit loved ones, they are also not allowed to come in with VITAS team members.
However, we can coordinate telehealth visits so that family members can do a video call with their family members while we visit. Please speak with your loved one’s hospice team for specific information about this.
Will your inpatient hospice units (IPUs) operate on limited hours or limit the number of visitors during the coronavirus outbreak?
VITAS IPUs give care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. VITAS is incorporating guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to hospitals and nursing homes to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
Each visitor to the IPU must have a temperature less than 100 degrees and no respiratory symptoms.
Also, we are limiting visitors to one at a time to allow necessary time with their loved ones, but also recognizing we are in the midst of a pandemic, which requires steps to limit risk of exposure for everyone.
Can a VITAS social worker or chaplain visit our loved one who is a patient during the coronavirus outbreak?
VITAS team members—including doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, and bereavement specialists—are following all safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and state/local health departments. They are also following facility-mandated visiting rules.
VITAS might limit the number of team members who visit each patient in person due to the scarcity of personal protective equipment resources, as well as to decrease COVID-19 exposure risk for patients and families.
Team members can continue to provide support through telephonic visits, and we have initiated telehealth video calls as well.
Are facilities where patients are getting hospice care requesting COVID-19 testing or laboratory results for patients who show symptoms?
Decisions about COVID-19 testing within a facility are made by that facility, depending on the situation.
These decisions are aided by input from the facility’s medical director, attending physicians, and state/local health departments.
Can I still volunteer for VITAS during the coronavirus pandemic?
At VITAS, we are still actively recruiting volunteers. You can make a difference from the comfort of your home.
We have an immediate need for volunteers, who we will train, to make support calls to hospice patients and their families. Additionally, we are taking interested volunteers with sewing skills to make Memory Bears from home.