Hospice care has changed in many ways throughout the pandemic, but the goal of comforting those near their end of life has stayed the same.

Dr. Laura Archuleta has been busy as CHI St. Alexius’s Hospice Medical Director.

“I’m medical director for four of the hospices through CHI Health at Home in ND, so we’re doing meetings several times a week, I’m reviewing cases on a daily basis, I’m coordinating with nurses,” Archuleta said.

She’s the only hospice-certified physician in Bismarck-Mandan and one of just a handful in the state.

Archuleta says the need for certification has grown as the responsibilities for the job have grown, too.

“I think it’s because the American health care system is just getting more complicated,” Archuleta said.

The pandemic has complicated things, too.

“Obviously it’s been a challenge. We’ve seen increased referrals unfortunately because of patients who have had not necessarily directly from COVID but from complications, the underlying diseases that have gotten worse because of COVID, so it has affected our numbers,” Archuleta said.

Colette Rudolph says COVID has made fostering personal connections with patients more difficult.

“You come in as being very sterile and distanced, they can’t see your face, there’s no hugs, there’s no smiles they can see, there’s no handshakes, and hospice really is about making that personal connection,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph is an end-of-life doula. She works with hospice teams to support patients who are dying — helping diminish fears related to death.

“None of us have died before so we can kind of help guide them through that time,” Rudolph said.

Both Rudolph and Archuleta say hospice care is beneficial for many families but often underutilized.

“Even though it’s end of life, it’s probably where I see the most true healing happen,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta has more than 15 years of experience in hospice and Rudolph has about 30.