Alleo Expands Teen Grief Program’s Reach

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Hospice providers across the country have revamped bereavement support during a time of isolation and loss as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Tennessee-based Alleo Health System has expanded its teen grief programming, taking group counseling and other outlets of support in the last year to help meet their unique needs.

Alleo Health System adapted their bereavement programming to a virtual setting, using platforms like Zoom to continue providing counseling services during COVID-19. One of the groups is Teen Tuesdays, a three-week online program beginning this month for teens ages 13 to 18 who have experienced a significant death in their lives. Open to patients’ loved ones and teens in the community, each session is an hour and a half in length and held on Tuesday nights.

“We do a kids camp and a teen retreat that always have really big turnouts,” Lily Quinn, Alleo’s strategic communications coordinator. “Last year in August, we had some kids joining us from Minnesota and Michigan because they were able to join us virtually.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires hospice providers to offer bereavement counseling for a minimum of 13 months after a patient passes. Many hospices expand this grief support beyond just their patients and into their communities.

The public health emergency has complicated not only the way in which lives are lost, but also the way their loved ones grieve. Since the outbreak began, hospice providers have adapted their bereavement programs to comply with social distancing limitations. Many have leveraged technology and mobilized to meet rising demand for grief care during COVID-19, to continue providing these services from a distance.

According to Quinn, the program is aimed at helping teens better understand and process their grief through conversations and activities specifically targeted for their age group. Teens will meet in smaller online groups and participate in ways to express their grief through music and artistic therapies and group counseling sessions.

“When you’re a teenager, you have all these hormones, all these emotions, and you have these questions of where do you belong and how do you fit in. When you add grief on top of that, it makes you stand out even more in a way that teens don’t want to stand out,” said Quinn. “They don’t want to be recognized as the kid who has a parent that died, or a cousin or a sibling that died.”

In terms of grief support, teens represent a unique area of need that hospice providers can help to fill. Teen Tuesdays grew out of Alleo’s annual teen retreat, held at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center. With social distancing limitations, the day-long retreat was challenging to move online with a virtual event and keep teens engaged, according to Quinn.

Beginning as part of Alleo Health System’s Healing Hearts Family Nights, Teen Tuesdays is part of the company’s overall bereavement growth strategy. According to Quinn, Alleo has been revamping the program during the course of roughly the last 15 or 16 years, tailoring to adults as well as separating out by age groups. A “Littles” group exists for kids ages 5 through 9, a “middles” for those around 10 to 12 years old, and a group for teens ages 13 through 18. Each group now meets online.

The organization’s grief team developed Teen Tuesdays sessions to break out these adolescent groups and provide a place for teens to talk, have a creative outlet, and gain a sense of community and normalcy during a time of loss. The group features conversations, creative activities and other outlets to help teens share their story of loss and navigate their grief.

“Teens grieve in their own time and their own way, and after a significant death, navigating those emotions can seem impossible,” said Susan Latta, director of grief counseling at Alleo Health, during a recent announcement. “After a loss, it’s important to find a community who understands what you’re going through and an outlet that works for you. Grief is never one size fits all.”

Serving patients and families in 37 counties in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama, Alleo Health System emerged in 2019 when the nonprofit Hospice of Chattanooga rebranded its network of hospice and palliative care providers.

Alleo is the parent company of Hospice of Chattanooga, Palliative Care Services, Good Shepherd Hospice, Comprehensive Care, and Kangaroo Kidz, the Chattanooga region’s only pediatric specialty hospice and palliative care provider. The company grew its hospice footprint further last year with the acquisition of Upper Cumberland Hospice and Palliative Care Services in Cookeville, Tenn., and purchase of ABC Hospice and Angel Heart Hospice in Alabama.

A virtual setting allowed the company to expand its bereavement program’s reach. Since the pandemic, Alleo Health’s grief support groups have reached more than 9,800 individuals online, according to Quinn. Prior to the pandemic’s hit, the family grief programs were centralized through the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., location. Taking support avenues online connected individuals to these services who may not have otherwise had access.

“We had a lot of people through our virtual support groups that we probably wouldn’t have reached before just doing our in-person things with the grief team,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to expand it to where anyone can join and in our other community grief support programs as well so that if people need these groups or they need individual counseling, we provide that free of charge. It’s one of our community outreaches, a way that we can be here for them.”

Alleo Health System plans to continue growing its teen-centered grief support, building upon resources and ideas from national organizations sources and groups such as the Dougy Center for Grieving Children, The Compassionate Friends non-profit organization for grief, and The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) people younger than 25.

“We aim to keep virtual support groups an option for those who have gotten comfortable with being at home and not feeling the need to hop in the car and drive to a location, or for those that still may have some anxiety about getting out when things go back to normal, whenever that may be,” Quinn told Hospice News. “We have a support group that is for our caregivers, those who are the primary caregiver for a sick or dying loved one, that we think is going to stay popular as being online so they don’t have to leave that person in the care of a volunteer or another loved one and still be there.”

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