Banner Hospice gives compassionate care and comfort during COVID-19 pandemic


Like all health care services offered
by nonprofit Banner Health, Banner
Hospice provides care, regardless
of the patient’s ability to pay.

More than 25,000 patients with COVID-19 have been saved in Banner Health hospitals since the start of the pandemic. Yet, sadly, thousands of other Arizonans lost their battle over the past year. Many families had precious little time to prepare for the passing of their loved one, and often were unable to say goodbye in person.

Time and again, Banner Hospice stepped in to help.

Hospice is a philosophy of care focused on comfort, dignity, and quality of life for terminally ill patients and their families. As Arizona’s only hospice program affiliated with a major health care system, Banner Hospice is a network of multidisciplinary experts—physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, bereavement counselors and volunteers—working together to address physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs. These experts work closely with the patient’s caregiver and family to provide education and training where necessary, give respite, and offer support for difficult decisions. Banner Hospice also offers grief and bereavement services to families for up to two years after their loved one’s passing.

Patient care is focused on comfort, including pain and symptom management and alternative therapies designed to relieve stress and promote relaxation, including music therapy, pet therapy, aromatherapy, and art therapy. Like all health care services offered by nonprofit Banner Health, Banner Hospice provides care regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted poor and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, Banner Hospice cared for more uninsured and underinsured patients in 2020 than in a typical year. Generous philanthropic investments from grateful families and community members who have experienced, and appreciate, the value of hospice care sustains the program, making these resources available to anyone in need.

While hospice care is most often provided in the patient’s home, care and support are also delivered in retirement homes, skilled nursing facilities, and in the hospital setting in a manner that feels as much like home as possible. Because severe cases of COVID-19 required hospitalization and, in many cases, intensive care, Banner Hospice cared for twice as many patients in hospital settings than in a typical year.

Like all hospitals and health care systems, Banner Health restricted visitors much of the year to protect the safety of patients, staff, and guests. This meant families could not be present with their loved one at the end of their life and were unable to make end-of-life decisions—making hospice care an even more vital resource.

“Hospice workers could be there even when the family couldn’t be in the room, using whatever technology was appropriate to connect them,” explains Joyce Bulman, RN, MBA, CHPCA, senior director for Banner Hospice and Palliative Care. “We are able to really focus on what those last minutes, hours and days look like, identifying the things that will make a lasting difference for the family.”

One of the unique mementos Banner Hospice gave to some families losing a loved one: a recording of the patient’s heartbeat layered into their favorite song and recorded on a CD—creating a beautiful, highly personal, and lasting memory. Joyce says this idea was one of many innovations to emerge this year as a way to comfort grieving families.

While care was provided in the hospital setting more often in 2020, the Banner Hospice team still provided care for many patients at home wearing Personal Protective Equipment and following all CDC guidelines. One mother of four children ages 1 to 15 had been caring for her dying uncle in her home. When the Banner Hospice nurse and social worker visited on December 24, they learned that the family had made no plans for Christmas, as the mother was fully involved with the care of her uncle and had no time or resources to buy gifts for the children. The Banner Hospice team went out and bought gifts for the children and a bouquet of flowers for their mother so they would have some joy that Christmas, as her uncle passed on Christmas Day.

The Banner Hospice team worked
diligently throughout the year
to continue offering its many
community programs, pivoting to
virtual offerings wherever possible.

The Banner Hospice team worked diligently throughout the year to continue offering its many community programs, pivoting to virtual offerings wherever possible. The Dottie Kissinger Bereavement Camp helps children work toward healing after the loss of a loved one. In a normal environment, the Payson, Ariz.-based camp is led by Banner Health hospice volunteers three times a year, combining traditional, fun camp activities with grief education and emotional support. In 2020, the camp went virtual, with participants participating via Zoom and receiving a “camp in a backpack” at home, complete with grief-related activities, fixings for S’mores, and a list of campfire songs to sing together online.

Some programs even extended their reach thanks to the shift to virtual platforms. A virtual bereavement program launched as an alternative to in-person group meetings, allowing the team to reach families outside the Phoenix metro area. Joyce says the program was so successful, it will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic to bring this support to more families, including those in outlying areas or who lack transportation.

Families who lost a loved one to COVID-19 were incredibly grateful for the many creative, sensitive ways Banner Hospice eased their suffering during this unprecedented pandemic. “I feel so fortunate that, of the thousands and thousands of people who have died alone, you guys made it so we could be with my dad, and that he had people who loved him with him,” said Dale Hornyan-Toftoy, whose father, Anthony, died at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in February. When Dale and her niece arrived at the hospital to spend her father’s final moments with him, they found he had been moved to another floor, safely away from the COVID-19 unit, to ensure their safety in his final moments. With soft music playing at his bedside upon their arrival, Dale thanked the Banner Hospice team for “the treasure you gave us to be with him, and for making it so peaceful and comfortable as he passed.”

Banner Hospice relies on philanthropic investment to support and sustain its programs, including charity care, bereavement and support, community outreach, music therapy and more. 100% of your gift is used for this programming. To support the Banner Hospice program, make your tax-deductible donation online. Memorial and tribute gift options are available. To discuss giving non-cash assets such as appreciated stock, or making a planned gift from your estate, call 602-747-GIVE.