Caring Hands and Open Hearts: Celebrating the Important Role Hospice Nurses Play in Patient Care

Kelly Haneca Nurses play an important role, and Hospice nurses in particular take on a critical role in caring for terminally ill patients and their families. Comfort is a hospice nurse’s primary focus and advocating for patients is always their number one priority.

Hospice of the Red River Valley’s registered nurses (RNs) are specially trained in pain control and symptom management. They provide exceptional patient-centered care guided by the individual’s wants and needs. Hospice nurses monitor vitals, and manage all equipment, medications and supplies in the patient’s home. Hospice nurses also serve as the link between a patient and his or her physician.

A hospice nurse’s role includes educating and supporting family members and other caregivers so they feel confident in their caregiving roles. Education includes making the patient and family more comfortable with the dying process, informing them on what to expect next and providing emotional support along the way as the patient and family transition into the next phase of life and death.

We spoke with Hospice of the Red River Valley RN Kelly Haneca about the distinct role of a hospice nurse and her experience providing care and support to our patients and their families.

What brought you to Hospice of the Red River Valley?

I started out working in a hospital as an oncology nurse. I always wanted to work in a different setting, and it seemed like Hospice would be a good fit for me. Even though I was in oncology, I dealt with a lot of end-of-life issues so Hospice seemed like a nice transition.

I’ve definitely found this is absolutely where I belong.

What do you enjoy the most about working as a hospice nurse?

There are two things I find very unique and that I really like about being a hospice nurse: spending time with patients and visiting them in their homes. I always tell new nurses who come to Hospice that I love the fact we are actually allowed to spend the time that’s needed with a patient and the patient’s family.

We spend time getting to know the patient; whereas, a lot of times in different settings, it’s a lot more rushed situation where you don’t get to spend time learning the special things about patients. People are usually pretty interested in telling you things about their life and sharing their story.

It’s also such a unique position to be able to go into people’s homes. If there are situations where you need to spend more time with a family, it’s very easy to rearrange your schedule or call people to help out so you can spend the time that is needed. It’s nice to be able to do that, because it’s definitely missing in many other health care settings.

It’s a very intimate situation to be involved in the final details of a person’s journey.

What qualities in a person help make a good hospice nurse?

Qualities of a hospice nurse

What is a visit like?

Visits include doing a physical assessment, finding out how the patient is doing emotionally and answering any questions or concerns. I spend time adjusting medications and giving tips on how to relieve or reduce symptoms.

Education is also a big part of what I do. Everyone’s situation and dying process is unique. I talk about the dying process and educate the patient and family about what to expect throughout the process.

There are some challenges working in this position. Some people are more open to listening and some are not. You definitely have to see where the patient is at and how much he or she wants to know, and try to prepare the patient for what’s coming. But it is important to be sensitive to where the patient is at in wanting to know the information.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

I have learned to have very good boundaries. When I am done with work, I am done with work and that’s the time to focus on my family. I like to exercise, do fun things and spend time with my loved ones.

What makes this position special?

It’s a daily reflection on dying, but it is also a daily reflection on living.

There are many aspects of being a hospice nurse that are very rewarding and help me appreciate what I have every day. I have learned a lot from patients and families, and it’s humbling and interesting to witness the love they share. What an amazing gift to give their loved one—to be at home where they want to be.

When I’m talking with families about hospice, I always encourage them to come on early so they can hopefully live a longer, more fulfilling life. It’s also nice to have everyone from Hospice in your life before it becomes more personal and intimate when the person is actively dying.

A lot of people have misconceptions believing that no matter what there’s going to be a lot of pain and suffering, and it’s amazing to see the relief in people when you tell them it doesn’t have to be like that.

It is also rewarding to come to Hospice and work with so many people who are just as passionate about their jobs and what they do as I am. With hospice, there are so many people working here because it is their passion.

To learn more about how Hospice of the Red River Valley supports patients and families, visit our website.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or


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