Extending Care to Families: June 29, 2014

The longstanding assumption is that the main “clients” in the ICU are the patients. Nowadays hospitals are expanding that definition to include family members - and extending care to them too.

“Patients rarely remember their stay in the ICU. This is driven more toward the family and their comfort,” says Amy Hiteman, an ICU director with Lee Memorial Health System.

At Cape Coral Hospital, it was employees who drove the initiative, led by frontline care providers who saw the stress firsthand.

“Nurses sometimes feel like, ‘there’s nothing I can do to help this patient to survive. But now I can do something meaningful, something really active to help their family at least be able to cope with the situation a little better’,” explains registered nurse Sabrina Sanfort.

Treating families is a multi-prong approach. From providing a private gathering spot near their loved one and hand-made quilts for people to hold on to. Even delivering a cart of comfort foods to sustain them.

“Needless to say the families don't want to leave, so we try to help them out to be as close as possible. We order the cart and the dietary department brings it up,” says Sanfort.

Several studies found that a lack of communication between doctors, nurses and family members of ICU patients contributes to increased anxiety during the illness, and grief if the patient dies.

Treating family members with consideration and compassion helps them make better decisions. And these small, but special gestures may improve acceptance, regardless of their loved one’s outcome.

“This is a perfect opportunity to show we are all about the healing culture and using more than just medicine to provide healing,” says Hiteman.