Teleconference Addresses Culture, End-of-Life Care

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


The Hospice Foundation of America hosted the 2009 National Bereavement Teleconference, “Diversity and End-of-Life Care,” in April. NASW Senior Policy Associate Karyn Walsh attended. It was the 16th annual Living With Grief Teleconference.

The teleconference was sponsored by the Foundation for End-of-Life Care and the Dignity Memorial Funeral Providers in cooperation with NASW, Adventist Communications Network, the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Education System.

HFA’s learning objectives for the teleconference were to define cultural diversity and discuss sources of diversity; describe the ways that cultural diversity can both complicate and facilitate end-of-life experiences; discuss the knowledge, sensitivities and skills necessary to work with culturally-diverse populations in end-of-life care; assess the challenges hospice and palliative care present for culturally diverse groups; and describe effective strategies and programs to work with end-of-life issues with culturally diverse populations.

In its program, HFA states, “Culture is not simply race or ethnicity — it is partly that, but culture is also spirituality, socioeconomic and geographic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, and life experience.”

Walsh agreed with that statement. “Culture is so much more than the ethnic background and community a person or persons are from. Cultural diversity now speaks to and encompasses all parts of a human being —their gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or cultural background, norms, practices and community belonging, social classes, religious or spiritual beliefs, ages, and physical and mental abilities,” she said.

According to Walsh, out of the almost 125,000 teleconference participants and listeners, social workers made up most of the audience. “It was important to attend due to the social work profession being so highly represented in the teleconference audience and on the live panel,” she said.

HFA’s annual National Living With Grief Teleconference offers three hours of Continuing Education Unit credits (CEUs) for a number of professions. There is a $25 online processing fee per certificate for each participant.

Frank Sesno, a CNN anchor, talk show host and White House correspondent, as well as a professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University, moderated the event.

Samira K. Beckwith, president and CEO of Hope HealthCare Services, was one of the panelists for the event. Beckwith is an NASW Social Work Pioneerw and is a former director of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Hospice Foundation.

“As a leader and a practitioner, Samira did a great job representing the hospice and social work profession, addressing the many dimensions in cultural diversity at the end of someone’s life,” said Walsh.

Other panelists included Sandy Chen Stokes, a public health nurse; Kenneth J. Doka, professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of the College of New Rochelle and a senior consultant to the HFA; Wanda Henry-Jenkins, manager of bereavement services at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care in the Chicago Northwest Program and recipient of the NASW Public Citizen Award in 1994; Richard Payne, director of the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life; Paul C. Rosenblatt, Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota; and Carlos Sandoval-Cros, a psychiatrist in private practice and an Episcopal priest.

The teleconference consisted of three segments: Understanding Diversity, Diversity at the Time of Death, and Diversity in Bereavement Care.

“This teleconference did not shy away from difficult issues such as same-sex partnerships and end-of-life care, how prejudice by some clients or practitioners in end-of-life care must be addressed, and how difficult this conflict can be,” said Walsh. “But, in the end, it all comes down to human beings who are dying and how important the values of human dignity, self-worth and empathy without judgment are.”

In its program for the teleconference, HFA provided participants with a diversity and end-of-life care tip sheet, which informed participants about ways they can learn how culture can influence end-of-life and grief experiences and how they can meet the needs of their communities. The program also suggested organizations and Web sites that participants can visit to find resources and training in cultural competency relevant to specific populations or professions.

Walsh says she hopes the teleconference will help practitioners in end-of-life care realize their own biases or prejudices and encourage them to have an honest dialogue with someone who can help them deal with it constructively. “Delivering quality care and services is so important in end-of-life care, and dealing with cultural diversity is an important awareness and ability to have and provide to those individuals at their most vulnerable moments of life,” she said.