The name is fitting: Heart and Soul Hospice. The new hospice agency in Nashvillle wants to improve the comfort of families at the end of a loved one’s life, according to NPR.
What’s unique about it? The people who own and operate the hospice agency have the same cultural identity as the people they are trying to serve, according to NPR.
In other words, they’re Black.
In their application to obtain a certificate of need in Tennessee, the hospice owners made it clear that they are Black and that they intend to serve everyone but will focus on African Americans, who are currently underserved. Tennessee data show that in Nashville, just 19% of the hospice patients are Black though they make up 27% of the population.
Though the area already had numerous hospice agencies, regulators granted the permission, based primarily on the value of educating an underserved group…
National data shows Black Medicare patients and their families are not making the move to comfort care as often as white patients are. Roughly 41% of Black Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2019 were enrolled in hospice, compared with white patients for whom the figure is 54%, according to data compiled annually by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
One of the Black caregiver who was hesitant to make the move to hospice care was Mary Murphy , who was the primary caretaker of her husband, Willie, and her mother before that. Her mother suffered from dementia, and so Murphy felt like she was “giving up” on her mother when transitioning her to hospice. Even though hospice is meant to give palliative care to those who are dying and help the caregiver for as long as possible, Murphy did most of the caregiving and it took a toll on her. Eventiully, hospice was able to be a major help, according to NPR.
When Willie her husband was dying, she embraced hospice once more. Willie, died a day after Thanksgiving this year and the hospice nurse who gave her emotional support when her mother died was there when Willie stopped breathing.
More from NPR:
“If you don’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I have hospice,’ if you can’t say that, then we’re doing something wrong,” says Keisha Mason, who is Heart and Soul’s director of nursing.
Mason, like Murphy, is Black and says that in her view, there’s nothing fundamental keeping Black patients from using hospice except learning what the service can offer and that it’s basically free to patients — paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and most private health plans.
“I say to them, ‘If you see a bill, then call us, because you should not,’ “ she says.
As Mason has helped launch this new hospice agency, she’s begun using new language, calling hospice more than a Medicare benefit. She describes it as an entitlement.
Some of the investors and founders of Heart and Soul Hospice are David Turner, owner of CNS Hospice in Detroit, Nashville pastor the Rev. Sandy McClain, and André Lee, who is a former hospital administrator on the campus of Nashville’s Meharry Medical College, an HBCU, according to NPR.
Lee and Turner are also the founders of a hospice in Michigan that focuses on Black patients and they plan to open other hospices across the country that model after Heart and Soul.
NPR has more:
Lee says more families need to consider home hospice as an alternative for end-of-life care. Nursing homes are pricey. And even with Medicare, a hospital bill could be hefty.
“You’ll go in there and they’ll eat you alive,” he says. “I hate to say [something] bad about hospitals, but it’s true.”
Hospice research hasn’t come up with clear reasons why there’s a gap between white and Black families’ use of the benefit. Some speculate it’s related to spiritual beliefs and widespread mistrust in the medical system due to decades of discrimination.
The hospice industry’s national trade group, the NHCPO, released a diversity and inclusion toolkit and a guide for how to reach more Black patients this year. It recommends connecting with influential DJs and partnering with Black pastors. But also just hiring more Black nurses.