Families find comfort in bereavement support - Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center - Richmond, VA
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Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center - Richmond, VA


Families find comfort in bereavement support

Image of Hospice unit from the outside

The COVID Bereavement Response Program is managed by social workers operating out of CVHCS’s hospice and palliative care wing. Photo credit: Mary Beatty-Brooks

By Megan Kon
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

COVID Bereavement Response is a new program at Central Virginia VA Health Care System (CVHCS) that seeks to help families cope with grief and bereavement, or when general support is needed.

The desire to create a support program to help families impacted by COVID-19 came from collaboration between social work service and Elizabeth Murphey, a supervisory social worker with geriatrics and extended care.

“We often focus on the patient,” Murphey said. “However, social distancing guidelines are impacting Veteran families as well, who are used to being present as strong advocates for Veterans. At VA, we treat the whole Veteran, which includes the family.”

The program’s goal is to prevent a chronic and debilitating condition known as complicated grief.

“Veteran families and caregivers represent the main source of support to our Nation’s heroes,” Murphey said. “Removing their ability to physically and emotionally support their Veteran family member [at the end of their life] can be a catalyst to complicated grief.”

Social workers remain proactive to ensure all COVID-19 positive Veterans are referred to the bereavement program. When patient visitation ended in March, the program was a means to address the isolation Veterans and families were experiencing.

Sarah Rohrer, a social worker, provides bereavement and supportive counseling for the program. She has received positive feedback from Veteran families.

“The family members I have spoken to are often living alone and have either suffered the loss of a spouse or family member or are unable to visit their ill loved one in the hospital or … nursing home,” Rohrer said.

Since March, Rohrer says that so far 50 families have been offered counseling and support through this program. She says families have expressed how they feel more connected when a VA representative reached out to discuss their loved one.

Rohrer is specially trained in hospice and palliative care social work. She often helps families of hospitalized Veterans face important decisions as they approach end of life.

“I support the families when advocating for the Veteran, to ensure treatments and interventions are in alignment with their goals.” Rohrer said. “My hope is that they feel less alone, and they know the VA is standing behind them.”


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