This month, Madrona Hospice & Palliative Care became the first hospice in the state to receive accreditation from the National Institute of Jewish Hospice.
“I felt it was an under-served population,” said Wendy Blum, director of operations at Madrona Hospice. “People don’t realize that there are religious differences, and there are traditions that I wanted my staff to be aware of.”
The Scottsdale agency provides in-home hospice services throughout Maricopa County. To receive accreditation, representatives from Madrona Hospice attended the NIJH 2019 Jewish Hospice Accreditation Conference and committed to ongoing training for all staff members.
The hospice also hired Rabbi Jeff Lipschultz to provide counseling and conduct rituals for Jewish patients. Lipschultz, who has both an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox ordination, is originally from Tempe and became a bar mitzvah at Temple Solel. Before coming to Madrona Hospice, he served as a congregational rabbi for almost 18 years.
“As a congregational rabbi, I have a lot of experience in end-of-life care,” Lipschultz said. “It’s wonderful that I get to use that experience, which is very common now for conservative rabbis, and make it my full-time passion.”
The rabbi is also very familiar with Judaism’s teachings about the afterlife: He wrote his rabbinic thesis on the subject.
“In Judaism, we don’t talk much about the world to come or the afterlife, and it can bring a lot of stress,” Lipschultz said. “The hope is that through these rituals, it gives patients a sense of comfort and stability as they face these difficult weeks and months ahead.”
NIJH, a resource and educational center for hospices and other healthcare agencies, has accredited over 225 Jewish hospice programs in the U.S. since it was founded in 1985. Every year, the institute hosts a conference where hospice staff from around the country begin the accreditation process and spend the day learning about end-of-life care for Jewish patients.
“I cannot tell you the myriad of questions that go from A to Z and beyond, that you wouldn’t think anybody would want to know,” said Shirley Lamm, president of NIJH. “People come from everywhere, from California to New York, from Maine to Florida, everywhere in the country. Hospices from the Ozarks will go, ‘We have one patient, but we want to know how to care for this patient.’ And so they send their whole group down to learn about Jewish hospice.”
At the 2019 conference, staff from Madrona Hospice learned about Jewish customs and connected with hospice professionals from across the country.
“It was really taking a look at the things that currently are expected of hospice, but also asking how we can recognize and follow the Jewish perspective,” said Monica McCullough, director of nursing at Madrona. McCullough, who is not Jewish, said the conference was an important learning experience.
“They teach us the most restrictive or the Orthodox point of view, and then we can modify it depending on the preferences of our patients,” Blum said. “Any level of observance is fine with us.”
Madrona Hospice works closely with local chevra kadisha (Jewish burial societies) and Ezras Cholim, which provides kosher meals through the Arizona Kosher Food Pantry. Lipschultz can perform funerals for patients or arrange for a shomrim (guard) to properly transport the body back to another state for the funeral.
The goal of the NIJH training program, Lamm said, is to help hospice staff be aware of a Jewish patient’s needs.
“When a patient says, ‘Who was going to say Kaddish after me?’, we want the professional who was working — the aid, the nurse, the social worker, whomever it may be — we want them to know in advance what the patient is talking about,” Lamm said.
McCullough says that the training and certification is already helping social workers and caregivers develop more sensitivity and awareness.
“From the clinical end, we will still provide the superb hands-on clinical care, but it just adds a level of education for our team and respect for the dying journey,” McCullough said. JN