From bedpans to bedsores, the job of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) is often thankless — but their role is vital in preserving a hospice patient’s dignity and offering needed support for caregivers. CNAs are characterized as caring, loving, attentive, communicative, tough, stable, patient, understanding, kind, empathetic, and compassionate. 

Many nursing assistants consider their work a calling and much more than just a job. One CNA who has been in hospice for more than seven years said, “I chose hospice because I’m passionate about working with those who cannot help themselves. What I love most about hospice…is the unconditional care I can give to families and patients during their time of need.”

Caring for a hospice patient who is nearing the end of their life requires a well-rounded team approach, and as part of Heart to Heart Hospice’s patient-centered care teams, CNAs help offer comfort, provide support, and preserve dignity. CNAs are certified, skilled employees who support nurses and other staff. They interact a great deal with patients and their families as they assist with activities of daily living (ADL) and provide important emotional and practical support. 

Dignity for Terminally Ill Patients

As patients approach death, they gradually lose the ability to perform daily tasks for themselves. It’s difficult to lose independence, but that’s where CNAs step in to offer their tender assistance. Nursing assistants pay attention, notice changes, and address immediate needs that provide comfort and relief to patients and family caregivers. A hospice CNA’s duties include the following:

Personal care: Assisting patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, oral care, hygiene, and toileting. They help maintain the patients’ dignity and comfort while respecting their preferences.

Mobility assistance: For bed bound patients, turning and repositioning in bed to prevent bedsores and improve comfort. Helping mobile patients transfer to/from bed to a chair or with walking. 

Comfort measures: Assisting with skin care, providing non-medical pain management and comfort measures, which may include positioning pillows or giving gentle massages.

Patient Care: Under direction of the RN hospice nurse, provide continuity of care with vital signs monitoring (temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate, pulse), track health changes and report them to the RN, provide patient medications reminders, reinforce dressings, and provide comfort measures per the care plan.

Nutrition support: Assisting patients with eating and drinking, ensuring they receive proper nutrition and hydration.

Emotional support: Providing companionship and emotional support to patients and their families during this challenging time. This can include reading, playing music, offering a listening ear, and being a comforting presence.

Practical support: Performing light housekeeping duties, like changing bed linens and keeping the patient’s environment clean, safe, and comfortable. Helping with delivery and pick up of equipment and supplies. Running occasional errands (like grocery store pick up).

Communication and reporting: Documenting observations and care provided, communicating any changes in the patient’s condition to the family and nursing team, and keeping records up to date.

Care coordination: Collaborating with the hospice team, including nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other healthcare professionals, to ensure the patient’s needs are met holistically.

End-of-life care: Assisting with end-of-life care and providing support to both patients and their families during this sensitive time.

Nursing Assistants and Hospice Patient Qualification

Patients who have a life-limiting illness, are given a prognosis by their doctor of six months or less, and discontinue curative treatments qualify for hospice benefits. Hospice helps keep patients comfortable with pain and symptom management wherever they call home (a private residence or residential facility). For hospice, the goal is often to keep patients out of the hospital and fulfill their desire to die in the place they call home as the disease naturally progresses.

Under hospice, extensive training is offered to in-home caregivers, as well as medical visits from nurses and other support team members like CNAs, social workers, spiritual care coordinators, dieticians, and specialized therapies (such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy), and pet therapy in some locations). The frequency of nurse and CNA visits is based on the plan of care tailored to the patient’s needs. Hospice CNAs, along with Home Health Aides (HHAs), often receive specialized training for end-of-life care.

Heart to Heart Hospice recognizes the essential role of CNAs — thank you for your tireless care! If you’re interested in making a difference in the lives of hospice patients as a CNA or another position, check out the job openings at Heart to Heart Hospice in Indiana, Michigan, and Texas.