Bereavement Support on the Frontline of COVID-19: Recommendations for Hospital Clinicians

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2020 Aug;60(2):e81-e86. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2020.04.024. Epub 2020 May 4.


Deaths due to COVID-19 are associated with risk factors which can lead to prolonged grief disorder, post-traumatic stress, and other poor bereavement outcomes among relatives, as well as moral injury and distress in frontline staff. Here we review relevant research evidence and provide evidence-based recommendations and resources for hospital clinicians to mitigate poor bereavement outcomes and support staff. For relatives, bereavement risk factors include dying in an intensive care unit, severe breathlessness, patient isolation or restricted access, significant patient and family emotional distress, and disruption to relatives' social support networks. Recommendations include advance care planning; proactive, sensitive, and regular communication with family members alongside accurate information provision; enabling family members to say goodbye in person where possible; supporting virtual communication; providing excellent symptom management and emotional and spiritual support; and providing and/or sign-posting to bereavement services. To mitigate effects of this emotionally challenging work on staff, we recommend an organizational and systemic approach which includes access to informal and professional support.

Keywords: Bereavement; coronavirus; family caregivers; grief; palliative care; pandemics.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning
  • Bereavement*
  • COVID-19
  • Communication
  • Coronavirus Infections* / psychology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Family / psychology*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Palliative Care / psychology
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / psychology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / therapy
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy