Equal access to health care is central to VNSNY’s mission. This commitment goes all the way back to our founder Lillian Wald. Lillian worked with Jessie Sleet Scales, one of the first African American Public Health Nurses and other Black nursing pioneers, to establish, in 1906, the Stillman House in the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan (today’s Lincoln Center area), the center of New York’s African American community at the time. Stillman House, a branch of VNSNY’s then sister agency Henry Street Settlement, is considered to be the first public health clinic established specifically to serve an African American community.
Today, VNSNY continues to improve access to health care for all New Yorkers. And that includes compassionate, culturally sensitive care at the end-of-life.
VNSNY founded the HOPE (Hospice Outreach Patient and Provider Education) Program in 2015 to improve access to hospice care among residents of Harlem. Evidence shows that Blacks and Latinos underutilize hospice when compared with Caucasian patients. According to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, in 2018, only 8% of hospice patients were African Americans and 7% Latino. In 2020, to meet additional community needs, the HOPE Program was expanded to include the Bronx.
Through the HOPE Program, VNSNY works with neighborhood doctors’ offices hospitals, community-based health care providers and other health care leaders so they can talk to patients about hospice care when their illness reaches the terminal stage. We partner with local faith leaders, so they can help people understand hospice and how it fits in with faith and beliefs. And we work with community groups to help people plan for their future, talk to their families, and to learn that hospice can actually give them more time with the people they love!
It’s a good idea to plan for end-of-life care before you need it. Thinking about end-of-life care involves people and their families, often including extended families and faith communities.
The first step is to understand what is myth and what is fact about hospice care. Speak with your health care provider, they can provide you with more information and help you make choices. A conversation about advance care planning is also important. It’s helpful to think about what you want at the end of life—and to let people: your family, your health care provider and your faith leader if you have one, know about your choices.
Hospice cares for the whole person, and their loved ones. It includes medical, emotional social service, and spiritual support. A hospice team understands how important faith is to many people. Spiritual care counselors can work with your faith leader and community to keep you connected with worship and fellowship. Faith leaders endorse hospice care and see it as being consistent with religious belief. Hospice can be a way to spiritual peace and honoring life.
Hospice care is provided by a team of people who are specialists in hospice care, but this team recognizes that you are the expert on you and your family. The hospice team is there to support you and make sure you and your loved ones have what you need. They aren’t there to tell you what to do.
Community outreach and involvement is central to the HOPE program. Program staff participate in community events and reach out to community leaders to raise awareness of hospice care. The HOPE program also leads educational forums on hospice and other health issues important to the community.
Finally, VNSNY HOPE program works to improve understanding among health care providers. Knowledge about, and sensitivity to, different cultures and serving patients in the language they speak, is vital when caring for diverse patients.