Isolated Hospice Program Evolves As Area Becomes More Suburban

The Hospice of the Panhandle in Martinsburg, W.Va., serves a four-county, largely rural area, but that is changing as people move in from the Washington, D.C. area. As a result, the staff is retooling to serve a more diverse clientele.

       Bereavement Service Coordinator Larry Crawley-Woods is learning sign language, for example, to better serve the hearing impaired. Meanwhile, he is working closer with Latino church groups and reaching out to Chinese families, because Chinese mourning rituals rely more on familial ties and less on the spoken word. Crawley-Woods even climbed a mountain for a Native American client and recited a prayer to the four directions.

       Hospice counselors are also learning to accommodate gender differences. For example, they will describe a support group to older men as a “class” and counseling as a “consultation” because it sounds less intimate and more like a way to “solve” grieving by collecting information.

       Older women tend to grieve longer, so hospice staff encourage them to keep in touch beyond the official 13-month time period for bereavement services stipulated by Medicare. “Sometimes you have acute flare-ups years after the death of a loved one, where you feel like you are sliding down, but actually you are making more progress than you think,” Crawley-Woods says.

       Meanwhile, he advises social service or health care providers to assess the quality of a bereavement service before making a referral, and to see if they are affiliated with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which sets the standards of practice.

       Contact: Larry Crawley-Woods, Hospice of the Panhandle, (304) 264-0406,; National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, (703) 837-1500,