$30K grant helps Angela Hospice address racial disparity in hospice use

Hospice Members of Angela Hospice’s outreach team meet with congregational leaders at Second Baptist Church in Detroit’s Greektown district as part of a pilot program to reach out to the African-American community, which uses hospice care at a lower rate than the general population. Courtesy of Angela Hospice

Felician-sponsored ministry to reach out to Detroit’s underserved African-American community

Detroit — Bolstered by a grant from the Felician Sisters, Angela Hospice is taking up an initiative to reach out to the African-American community of southeast Michigan.

Angela Hospice was awarded a $30,000 grant from the St. Francis Fund, a grant-writing organization of the Felician Sisters of North America that provides financial assistance to Felician ministries across the country.

Money from the grant will assist Angela Hospice in purchasing materials and hiring staff to reach out to African-American faith communities in the city of Detroit and surrounding suburbs, said Bob Alexander, director of development at Angela Hospice.

“A few years ago, our ethics coordinator, Patrick Smith, who eventually moved on to Harvard, suggested that there is a clear disparity in the use of hospice care by African-Americans, and it’d be worthwhile to look into at some point,” Alexander said.

According to statistics from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, only 8.2 percent of Medicare recipients who use hospice are African-American — significantly less than the 13.3 percent the U.S. Census Bureau estimates African-Americans comprise in the population at large.

“After doing some research, we found the disparity in hospice care resulted in underuse of really great care at the end of life for this part of the population,” Alexander said. “This underuse was self-determined. People who qualified for hospice care through Medicare were choosing not to use it. So we started looking into what was impacting these choices.”

Angela Hospice’s research showed a major contributor to such a disparity stemmed from a general mistrust in some pockets of the African-American community of the health care system, stemming from years of prejudice and systematic racism, plus a disparity in advanced directives — prepared wishes from a person on how they wish to be cared for should they become unable to make decisions.

“In the Caucasian community, we found 40 percent of the population has advanced directives,” Alexander said. “In the African-American community, it’s only 16 percent. Many African-Americans are suspicious of the medical community because of historical abuses and see the medical community as not unilaterally trustworthy to intervene on their behalf.”

Looking to bridge such mistrust, Angela Hospice invited members of predominately African-American faith communities to discuss end-of-life care.

“In June 2016, we had a roundtable discussion at our Livonia location with representatives from prominent African-American churches, Wayne State University and a representative from the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Alexander said. “We talked about the disparity, and we confirmed some of the research we had about why African-Americans weren’t taking advantage of hospice.”

That roundtable discussion led to a better understanding of ways to promote the benefit of hospice to patients and their families, with members from the congregations serving as liaisons.

“We now have an educator who is connecting with a number of communities, going into the communities, taking with them information about hospice and what’s available,” Alexander said. “We’re trying to implement an understanding in terms of end-of-life conversations. We are going in wearing our faith on our sleeves. We are here to love our brothers and sisters in Jesus, here to accompany them during this time of their lives.”

Angela Hospice conducted a feasibility study for the project, and before applying for the St. Francis Fund grant, launched a pilot project by having an outreach educator go to Second Baptist Church in Detroit to talk with church leaders and families about the benefits of hospice care.

With the $30,000 grant, Alexander said Angela Hospice will send outreach educators to six more congregations in the Metro Detroit area.

“The money from the grant will provide the educator with materials to teach people who are embedded in the community, providing them with education materials, binders full of information, so they become local experts in end-of-life issues,” Alexander said. “It’s all about building trust and empowering people with information so they know what options are available for them.”