Four years ago, a Paramus-based hospice received accreditation from the National Institute for Jewish Hospice to set up a program especially for Jewish patients. It was called Hatikva ("the hope") and it was hoped that its trained professionals and community volunteers would fill a need for the terminally ill and their families.
But Hatikva itself was dead within six months. And today, there are neither specifically Jewish hospices nor any programs accredited by NIJH in northern New Jersey.
"Initially, it was agreed that it would be helpful to have a ‘culturally competent’ program, but there were almost zero referrals," said Frank Brady, executive director of Life Source, the Paramus hospice that started Hatikva.
Brady and others say they learned that while there are indeed many potential hospice patients here who are Jewish, most families aren’t seeking hospice care with "cultural competence," or familiarity with a particular culture. Since Hatikva folded, Life Source has gotten no more than six inquiries about it per year.
"Usually, the focus is on finding a hospice that can best care for the sick person. The focus is not on traditions, which most families can oversee themselves," said Brady.
Annette Prager of Bergenfield, a social worker who was Hatikva’s community outreach coordinator, has a different perspective on the situation. She said that while she has found Holy Name Hospital’s hospice and Homeside Hospice in Passaic to be sensitive to Jewish patients’ needs, "people wish there were Jewish hospices available."
There are more than 40 NIJH accredited hospices in the country, but the only ones in New Jersey are in Bloomfield, Cranford, Eatontown and Livingston, according to a listing on the Website nijh.org. Directors Shirley and Rabbi Maurice Lamm, formerly of Englewood, confer accreditation after familiarizing staffers with concepts such as shiva and the varied customs surrounding end of life, death, and bereavement in Judaism.
Shirley Lamm, who lamented the fact that there are no Jewish hospices in northern New Jersey, came to a recent conference in Chicago to find out about the accreditation process.
"Here [in North Jersey] hospices feel they have the Jewish piece, which they don’t," she said. "It’s a shame because they’re missing out on Jewish care. You don’t care for a Jewish terminally ill patient without having been trained."
Lamm speculated that "if one [hospice] accredits in northern New Jersey, the others will all wake up, because the name of the game is getting referrals."
Jeff Lampl, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Bergen County, said it’s not that simple. "Each health-care facility is contracted only with certain hospices," he explained. That means unless the patient is dying at home, families will be referred only to hospices under contract and cannot choose a different one.
However, he added, "Every hospice I know in our area hospitals and nursing homes including Englewood Hospital Medical Center, Holy Name Hospital, and Hackensack University Medical Center can accommodate Jewish patients’ needs. We get no complaints about these services, and that usually indicates people are satisfied."
Brady said Life Source still uses the materials from NIJH to keep its staff attuned to Jewish issues. "They need to know what do and what not to do," he said. "For example, with observant Jewish families we know not to leave a decedent unattended."
Lampl said such sensitivity probably is sufficient.
"In reality," he said, "people seem to have their needs met. What is Jewish hospice, after all, beyond having a rabbi available and health professionals who understand our culture and needs? I don’t know what else you would need."
Esther East, director of Jewish Family Services of Clifton-Passaic, said that "having access to rabbinic support at the time of a crisis of the dimension that hospice deals with is invaluable for Jewish families. The existing hospices are generally wonderful in terms of providing end-of-life medical/nursing palliative care support. Incorporating a rabbi into the existing systems makes the most sense in terms of resource utilization and continuity of care."