Helping Patients, Families Understand Benefits of Hospice

Care Dimensions admissions nurse Kitty Cunningham reviews paperwork with a female hospice patient in her Massachusetts home

Care Dimensions Admissions Nurse Kitty Cunningham meets with a hospice patient in her home.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.


As a hospice admissions nurse for Care Dimensions, I know this saying well because I live it every day.


Once someone with advanced illness has called us to explore the hospice option, our admissions team assigns a registered nurse to visit him or her. For my patients, I am the first company representative they meet, so I need to establish a good relationship immediately.


I see patients wherever they live – private residences, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, and occasionally group homes for the developmentally disabled. Regardless of the setting, I can count on one thing: the person I’m about to meet is usually frightened. They have been told that they have a life-limiting illness.


Choosing hospice


It’s my job to educate them that by choosing hospice, their life is about to become a lot less frightening and less stressful. And I have one chance to do that.


I need to develop trust with the patient and/or family, and the most important thing I can do is listen. People want to be heard. What do they understand about their illness? What’s their biggest concern?


I explain that I am there to answer questions and determine how Care Dimensions can help them, now and throughout their journey with us. I also let them know right away that they are in charge, and we provide support as needed and in accordance with their wishes.


I want them to know that we will do all we can to ensure that they can live out the rest of their days as they want to live them. Maybe they want to attend their child’s wedding, travel to a destination on their bucket list, or simply spend quality time with their family.


Knowledge is power. Part of what I do as an admissions RN is educate patients and families about what Care Dimensions is and how we can help. I explain that our hospice service includes a comprehensive care team, plus specialty programs, complementary therapies, and volunteers.  A lot of times, the patient says, “I never knew this kind of support was available to me.” We address the patient’s physical symptoms, but we also support the patient’s and family’s emotional well-being. It’s important they know that they have someone they can turn to. All they have to do is pick up the phone and call us.


Caring for the caregiver


Taking care of the family is so important. They’re often stressed out and overwhelmed as caregivers. I know what that’s like because before I became a nurse, I helped my mom get through her post-stroke rehabilitation. It was tough, but I met some inspiring nurses who made a big difference in her recovery. I put that in the back of my mind, and later, when my son was 10 years old, I decided to pursue a nursing career.


I worked in several long-term care facilities, which is where I had my first exposure to hospice. I could see all the good the hospice teams were doing for our patients, and everybody looked like they really enjoyed their job. Later, I decided to investigate a hospice career and was recruited by a friend to work for a hospice agency. I worked in case management and admissions for a couple of agencies before joining Care Dimensions (then Hospice of the North Shore) as an admissions RN in 2007.


Care Dimensions admissions nurse Kitty Cunningham smiles with a female hospice patient at home

Care Dimensions Hospice Admissions Nurse Kitty Cunningham smiles with a patient during a home visit.

Since then, I have met hundreds of patients and families and I enjoy the one-to-one interaction I have with them. Every day and every case is different. I never know what each day will bring, but I know I’m going to meet people who need my expertise and understanding.


I come into patients’ and families’ lives at the most stressful point in their lives. Many have told me, “You have a very calming way about you.” I think that’s because in the 10 years I have been admitting patients onto hospice at Care Dimensions, I have developed a lot of confidence. I know that when I leave them, they will be turned over to a hospice care team that will help them live on their terms, in the best way possible.


Often at the end of our meeting they’ll say, “I was so nervous and now I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” That’s how I know I’ve done my job. It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve gained their trust and helped guide them along their end-of-life journey.


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Kitty Cunningham is an RN admissions liaison nurse with Care Dimensions and sees patients on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

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"Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts."