By JOHN BURNETT Hawaii Tribune-Herald | Sunday, September 18, 2022, 12:05 a.m.
For families with a terminally ill member who wants and is expected to die at home, enrolling in hospice care has several advantages for the family, such as helping with caregiving for the family and providing a comfortable, pain-free passing for the patient.
One advantage that’s not so obvious, however, is ensuring the family home isn’t treated as a crime scene by police after the loved one’s death. Lt. William Derr of the Hawaii Police Department’s Hilo Community Policing Section said that unless the homebound decedent had been in palliative or hospice care for at least 24 hours prior to death, police are required by law to respond to the home to investigate the death. His comments were made during a webinar hosted by Hawaii Care Choices.
“If somebody is going to pass away and they can get into the hospice or palliative care in 24 hours before they pass away, then the police response is basically none,” Derr said. “We don’t have to show up at the house. All that’s required is a phone call from the health provider, the caregiver. We take a little bit of information down over the phone, and it’s done. Then, the family doesn’t have to worry about policemen showing up, making a diagram of the scene. Because if they’re not enrolled, we have to show up. We have to do a diagram. We have to take photos of the departed. We have to physically handle the departed by rolling them over and … checking the body. “… There’s nothing worse I can imagine than having three or four policemen in your home who are complete strangers when grandma had just passed away. And they’re asking a million questions. They’re going through all the medications, collecting all that, saying, ‘Can I take a picture?’ Then, they’re watching the policeman roll grandma and all kinds of thing. And that’s a huge difference. And we’re mandated to do that. It’s not like we have a choice.
“That’s the police response when somebody passes away and they weren’t enrolled in hospice — where we don’t have to show up. The family can stay with the loved one.”
Palliative care is longer-term care for patients diagnosed with a serious or terminal condition, while hospice care is administered to patients whose prognosis is six months or less to live. Both are covered by insurance, according to Lani Weigert, Hawaii Care Choices community relations manager.
“If people are receiving hospice care at home, it is 100% covered by Medicare or any of the insurance companies because they all have a hospice benefit. It’s amazing to get all of this and really, for a minimal amount of money, especially for … how robust the services are for hospice.”
According to Derr, palliative care and hospice care for patients who have decided to die at home instead of a hospital “just eliminates a lot of stress on the family.”
“It keeps the police resources free to deal with other things … that we should be dealing with,” he said. “… Those are the advantages of getting the palliative care early, getting enrolled in hospice when somebody’s expected to pass away. … Because the stress on the family is going to be huge.
“This will eliminate so much of the stress, when you don’t have to have the police show up at the house. And it allows the family a lot more leeway.”
According to Derr, once police have investigated the scene of an attended death, the decedent’s body is then taken to the hospital morgue, “and nine times out of 10, a partial autopsy has been ordered.” In addition, the decedent’s loved ones aren’t allowed there to view the body or to pay their final respects.
“That creates a lot of stress,” Derr said. “… If they were enrolled in hospice, they can go right to the home, right to that person’s side to say goodbye. And they can make arrangements to have that person taken from the home to whatever mortuary they have chosen.”
Derr said just because a loved one is receiving palliative or hospice care, that doesn’t mean families should give up hope.
“They could be alive for years … you just never know, right?,” he said. “And hopefully, with that type of care, palliative care, holistic approach, they will stay better for longer.
“It’s not giving up hope. It’s just approaching the subject in a bigger-picture way.”
For more information on palliative and hospice care, visit hawaiicarechoices.org.
To view the webinar
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.