Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist Kelly Siegel

As a community-based hospice, Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, recognizes the importance of meeting the needs of each individual we serve. This is especially true in Pinellas County, whose population includes many diverse communities, including the second largest Jewish community in Florida.

To best serve the rich and varied beliefs, values and traditions of these families, Suncoast Hospice holds the Jewish Hospice Certification through the National Institute for Jewish Hospice and offers specialized training for our staff.

“Suncoast Hospice is a safe place for the Jewish community,” explains Kelly Siegel, community partnership specialist for Empath Health. “This certification offers the peace of mind that each patient’s decision making process for end-of-life care will be respected and honored.”

Obtaining the certification is a two part process: representatives attend the Institute’s annual conference, and then staff members complete a training. Though a single training course cannot possibly contain all of the cultural nuances and beliefs of Jewish people, it does identify common trends, practices and barriers to care that are often present for these patients and families.

Not unlike other minority groups, there is a long standing distrust of end-of-life care providers set by historical precedent of their beliefs not being respected in this setting. This leads many to feel hesitation about accepting hospice services and a challenge Suncoast Hospice is working to overcome.

Within Judaism there is a lot of diversity, from people who are secular but feel Jewish to those who hold orthodox beliefs. Even within families there can be a blending of customs. These trainings set a general baseline of respect and open the door to understanding each patient as an individual.

Siegel often hears questions from staff about visitation and attending the funeral after a patient passes or what kind of food is acceptable if they are in a continuous care role and need to bring a meal. The training hospice care providers attend help them feel more prepared and less awkward about asking questions.

“People are not offended when you ask for more education. We encourage our staff to learn about each family’s customs so care can be provided in a way that aligns with those beliefs,” adds Siegel.

In addition to specialized training for staff, Suncoast Hospice also has a Jewish Advisory Council comprised of both staff and community members. Together, this group identifies trends within the Jewish community and discusses how to best inform non-Jewish staff about this information.

Other commitments to the Jewish community include a caregiver group that meets via Zoom, resources for creating advance care plans and a Jewish music project, called Kol Rina or Sounds of Joy. The music project gifts patients with an MP3 player loaded with music created by Jewish artists and includes everything from Broadway to traditional Israeli songs. Music of all kinds has an ability to evoke peace, happy memories and can even open the door to conversation.

Communication leads to greater understanding between caregivers, patients and families and the ability for the best care to be provided.

“What I love about Suncoast Hospice is we are always asking,” adds Siegel. “We don’t assume people want to be treated a certain way.”

Learn about how Suncoast Hospice honors our Jewish community by visiting SuncoastHospice.org/certified-jewish-hospice/.