Bridging the racial divide in how we die

A fast-growing number of terminally ill Americans are choosing hospice care, which focuses on providing comfort and support at the end of life rather than curative treatments. But a clear racial divide has emerged. The latest figures show only 8.5 percent of hospice patients are black, 82.8 percent are white.

Many blame a history of mistreatment and inequalities in health care for African-Americans as the biggest factor. Studies show that mistrust in the health-care system is pervasive among blacks, and they are much more likely than whites to choose aggressive care in life’s final stage.

Starks, 44, of Florissant, was familiar with hospice through her education as a social worker. She explained to her uncle that he would no longer have to go to the emergency room when he had pain. She told her grandmother, his caretaker, that counselors would help her work through her grief.

Because they trusted Starks, they agreed. Starks saw first-hand the peace and comfort they received, and the experience inspired her to work in hospice care and forever changed their family.

“Hospice in my family was taboo, and now I am a hospice social worker and educator; and I’ve had five other family members utilize hospice,” Stark said. “That is huge.”

Building trust and improving education are keys to improving access for African-Americans, say area hospice providers. Many are finding success by reaching out to clergy members, primary care physicians and administrators at long-term care facilities that serve the black community. They have been meeting with local African-American groups such as the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition and Mound City Medical Forum. More.

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About The Rev. Thomas C. Jackson

Ordained to the priesthood in December, 2010.
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