Require Specialized Counselors for Terminally Ill Hospital Patients

Terminally Ill

Target: American Hospital Association (AHA)

Goal: Require all hospitals to have a counselor who specializes in terminal illness on staff

Very few hospitals have a licensed mental health counselor on staff that specializes in coping with a terminal diagnosis. Patients who are diagnosed with terminal cancer, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, or another disease for which there is no known cure desperately need psychological and emotional support throughout the entire journey of the disease. Most patients are given a diagnosis, and sent home to deal with it themselves, often resulting in denial or severe depression.

All hospitals should be required to have a mental health counselor on staff that is trained in supporting individuals who are terminally ill. As soon as that individual is given a diagnosis they should be referred to the counselor available on staff at the hospital. For many patients it becomes increasingly difficult to travel to doctor’s appointments, as the disease progresses, so it is important that the counselor be available at the hospital where the patient receives all of their medical support, to make seeing the counselor easy and convenient. In later stages, the counselor should be available for home or hospice visits.

Individuals who are diagnosed with a terminal illness are often seen as a purely physical being, with their physical state being treated to the best of the medical staff’s ability, though they understand they will likely not be able to prevent the eventual death of their patient. Perhaps because of the inevitable finality of the patient’s condition, medical staff do not see the need to invest in them psychologically, however it is at this stage in life, as a person nears the end of their life, that psychological, emotional, and spiritual support are most crucial. It is imperative that the person be supported, that they be heard and understood, and that they receive the assistance they need to come to terms with their current state and what is to come. A trained counselor can provide that support and help the person find peace within them.

Demand that all hospitals require a licensed mental health counselor or social worker to be on staff who specializes in terminal illness and end of life support.


Dear Richard Pollack,

In all of our American hospitals people are diagnosed with devastating terminal illnesses each and every day. These individuals and their families are most often offered no psychological or emotional support post-diagnosis, and are simply sent home to deal with the news, and the changes to come, on their own. This is simply unacceptable, and goes against the idea of treating the whole person. Individuals who are given a terminal diagnosis should be referred to an in-house licensed mental health counselor or social worker who specializes in supporting the terminally ill.

Patients who are given a terminal diagnosis often cope with the news by living in denial, or by succumbing to a deep depression. These patients need the support of a trained counselor to help them find peace with their condition and what is to come, to help them to feel heard and understood, and to support them throughout the many changes and transitions that they experience within their body as well as their mental state as they near the end of their life. This counseling support should be housed in the very hospital that the patient receives their treatment, so they do not have to travel to another location in their fragile physical state. The counselor should also be available for in-home and hospice visits later on in the patient’s life.

Please advocate for a policy to require all hospitals to hire a counselor on their staff to provide support to terminally ill patients and their families.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: ORBIS UK via Flickr

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