The 11th Annual Hospice & Palliative Care Conference, set for March 7, 2024, will feature a session led by Lee Webster, a longtime figure in the field of end-of-life care. Webster shared her perspectives on the evolving dynamics between professional caregiving and end-of-life doula care.
“Doulas are before death, non-medical caregivers, and support systems for the family of the dying,” she said. Webster has a diverse background as a writer, editor, conservationist and hospice volunteer, and brings insights into the integration of hospice and end-of-life doulas.
This distinction is critical for understanding the complementary roles these professionals play. Webster is committed to clarifying the legal and practical aspects of doula services.
Addressing the existing misconceptions, she said, “[Some] have a false understanding of what end-of-life doulas can and can’t do.” Her talk aims to dispel these myths, ensuring a better partnership between hospices and doulas.
Highlighting the collaborative nature of this relationship, Webster pointed out, “Doulas are not out to steal [healthcare professionals’] jobs, but are another set of tools in the tool chest.”
The supportive role of doulas can enhance the comprehensive care provided by hospice teams.
“People everywhere involved with the doula movement are struggling with this [integration],” Webster added.
What services do doulas offer?
Her efforts aim to promote a synergistic approach to caregiving. One of the key functions of doulas, as Webster describes, is to “fill in the gap between what hospice can provide and what the family needs.”
This involves non-medical support, such as managing daily tasks and offering comfort, thus complementing the medical care provided by hospices. Webster also addressed the misconception that doulas replace family roles in end-of-life care. She clarified, “It’s never been my job to take over for them. I want to reassure hospice personnel that’s not what doulas end up doing.”
The services doulas offer can range from practical assistance, such as helping to sell property, to more personal endeavors like aiding in the creation of memory books or photo collages. These tasks help patients leave behind meaningful legacies for their families. Webster points out the often-overlooked opportunities for patients to document their lives, a service that doulas can facilitate.
Spiritual care and support are another critical aspect of a doula’s role. They often aid in fostering essential conversations, whether it’s about forgiveness or reconciliation. This emotional support can be transformative for both patients and their families.
Webster also addresses the practicalities of the doula’s role, particularly when it comes to managing multiple patients. The commitment level varies depending on the patient’s stage in their end-of-life journey. While some may only require weekly visits, others might need constant support in their final days.
A crucial aspect of a doula’s work comes into play post-death. According to Webster, once a patient passes away, the doula must transition from a paid professional to a volunteer role.
“At the point where the person actually dies, the law takes over, and everything in that arena either becomes the responsibility of the next of kin, or they can defer and hire a funeral director,” she said. This change is vital to comply with legal requirements and ensure ethical practices.