Counseling in the Post-Acute Healthcare Setting
In acute healthcare settings, such as an inpatient stay at the hospital, the quality care delivered to patients is facilitated by readily available resources such as multidisciplinary healthcare teams all operating out of one facility. A multidisciplinary team can include your doctor, spiritual counselor, social worker, and bereavement counselor to name a few. Following discharge from an acute healthcare setting, more senior patients are often sent to post-acute healthcare settings. These are settings that reside outside of the hospital and can include skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), long-term care hospitals (LTCHs), inpatient rehabilitation centers and home care agencies. At these facilities, individuals traditionally experience longer stays and therefore continue to benefit from the multidisciplinary services mentioned above. In all of these settings, the availability of such resources, especially counseling, is critical to the long-term health and wellness of residents. April is recognized as National Counseling Month, and we can’t overstate the importance of counseling for individuals in any stage of care. Fortunately, a number of counseling services are readily available to individuals requiring long term care. Three of these services in particular include social work, bereavement, and chaplain services.
Social workers work within a healthcare team as vital advocates for patients and primarily serve individuals that are identified as “high-risk”. In that high-risk category fall senior citizens. Older individuals often reach a point where they can no longer care for themselves independently and rely on family or friends to provide care. This is sometimes the turning point at which you or a loved one may turn to long term care as the best option moving forward. In long term care, social workers can play a pivotal role in identifying where an individual may require the most help, whether that be emotional, financial, family, or other support. Social workers work closely with the rest of the healthcare team and take the lead as a case manager for individuals with psychosocial or financial issues. They also operate as a collaborator for high-risk clinical issues. Not all individuals in long term care will require extended counseling from a social worker, as it will depend on how high risk an individual is. Nonetheless, knowing the services available to you or your loved one can make a difference in receiving the support you need and resting assured that you are being well taken care of by your healthcare team.
Bereavement counseling is unique in that it is a service dedicated to your family after your loved one has passed away. The primary purpose of bereavement counseling is to help families navigate their grief following a loss. This particular service is incredibly valuable as it is virtually impossible to be fully prepared for what life after loss looks like, regardless of how long a loved one has been ill or how much a family has tried to prepare themselves. Bereavement counselors can be a helpful resource when dealing with the emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one, the disruption of daily routines, the stress of managing the logistics, and the possibly changed outlook on life and mortality. When your loved one passes, care should not stop there; and with the help of bereavement counselors, it doesn’t. Having a supportive team who is familiar with navigating loss can be tremendously impactful and can often eliminate undue stress.
Spirituality can be an especially helpful source of groundedness during challenging times, transitional periods, or throughout the grieving process. Through that lens, chaplains can be vitally important to both your loved one as they move into longer term care and you, as the supporter and caregiver.
Many emotions can accompany the transition from living at home or occasional acute care stays into long term care facilities. Some individuals experience anxiety, sadness, loss of identity, fear, and anger to name a few. All of these emotions can present their own challenges and can negatively impact one’s experience if left unaddressed. Chaplains offer more than just spiritual guidance and can often help individuals navigate some of these confusing, frightening, or unfamiliar emotions. Among the many things chaplains can do for patients, some of the most beneficial services include cultivating new hobbies, facilitating new relationships, providing referrals to appropriate experts, and talking through tough emotions. Chaplains can help individuals see beyond the negative and find acceptance and hope even in challenging times.
As the family of a loved one in long term care, the burden of this transition weighs just as heavy on you. Fortunately, many of the long-term care services are available to help you navigate these challenging times as well. Chaplains can often serve as a guide for the new challenges that arise with putting a loved one into long term care. Similarly, the emotions you face may feel unfamiliar. Be sure to give attention and time to your own emotions, just as you do for your loved one, and consider utilizing chaplain services if you are seeking support during this time. Chaplains not only help to facilitate the sustainment or discovery of spirituality but also contribute to the acknowledgement and interpretation of emotions for individuals and families experiencing change, grief, or loss.
Review Your Options
If you or a loved one are preparing to transition to a post-acute healthcare setting of any kind, be sure to discuss with your team of providers what counseling services are available to you and your family. The amount of support and care these services can provide outside of the hospital is extensive and can greatly impact the quality of a more long-term healthcare stay.
American Hospital Association: https://www.aha.org/advocacy/long-term-care-and-rehabilitation