When I talk with my clients lately, it seems nearly everyone has been grappling with a decrease in census. Are people just not dying as frequently as in the past? Are other providers stepping up to offer similar types of care thus sidestepping hospice or is it some other mysterious thing that is happening?!
We pursue referrals in all kinds of ways; we pass out brochures at doctor’s offices, assisted living communities, and senior centers; we give logo pens to discharge planners who we hope will call us looking for hospice care. We may pay search engines to put our ads above other results, when people go online to search phrases like “hospice near me”. These are all solid strategies – but do they go far enough?
Part of the challenge in engaging the community is that we’re balkanized in the public imagination because of the function we serve. It’s not news that people are by and large afraid of death – and though we as hospice providers know that our work is as much or more about living well at the end of life than it is about dying, that’s not an idea most people can wrap their heads around. The fact is, they don’t usually get to know us until they need us – and that needs to change.
The solution? Get proactive, get out into the community – and offer them something they want and/or need.
- Educate the Consumer: Because of what we do, we’re uniquely qualified to present talks, seminars, or roundtables on topics like: What to Expect When You’re Grieving; How Children Process Grief; When Is It Time For Hospice?; Your Rights in End of Life Care; Caring for the Care-Giver; Making Arrangements; Estate Planning, Wills and Funerals; 7 Documents You Need To Complete Before You Die; Caring For Your Loved One at the End of Life.
- Take it to the Library: Public Libraries are always looking for educational, free programs of interest to the public, and have meeting or presentation rooms in which you can speak. Your Chamber of Commerce and local service organizations like the Kiwanis’ Club, Rotary, etc. are also great venues for these kinds of talks. Make sure you coordinate with the Library to publicize the talk well ahead of time in local media outlets. Prepare a press release, and get pictures (with permissions) of the presentations for use in future publicity and on your website.
- Expand Your Offerings: Hospices are offering a wide variety of support groups, many of them peer-led or by local clergy volunteering their time. Among them are regular meetings for cancer survivors, groups for bereaved parents or adult siblings, caregiver’s groups, and widows and widowers groups. What does your community need?
- Partner With High Schools: When National Merit Scholar candidates or scholarship applicants are looking for opportunities to do volunteer hours, make sure their school counselors know about opportunities to volunteer in hospice. They don’t have to work with patients; they can bake cookies, play music, plant flowers, or organize art shows, etc. Many private schools require volunteer hours of their students, too. Create a brochure just for this audience. Their parents will thank you – and remember you.
- Partner With Scouts: Eagle Scouts need public service projects to win their rank, and your non-profit hospice offers those opportunities. Often these projects are centered on building; does your thrift store need new shelves? Does your garden need benches or flower boxes? Does your summer camp need a play-scape? One enterprising Girl Scout collected mp3 players and loaded them up with music for hospice patients. These success stories get space in local media. Make sure your community paper, website, etc. hears yours.
We can simply do our jobs and wait for the community to remember us – or we can look for ways to expand our outreach and provide extra value to our community. Which approach do you think will reap more goodwill – and referrals?