Is there anything more nerve-wracking than getting a phone call that a loved one has been unexpectedly hospitalized? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 2.1 million patients in the emergency department are transferred to an intensive care unit. When that happens, relatives are also impacted and need a support system.
“Families are totally unprepared for a sudden injury and overwhelmed when it is a very serious injury,” says Kelly McElligott, a Loyola University Health System licensed clinical social worker. “Families need a roadmap to guide them through their worst moments.”
Consider these tips if you have a loved one suddenly admitted to the hospital:
Take care of yourself. “If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of someone else,” says McElligott. “Many family members, especially parents, feel they need to be at the hospital 24/7 with their loved one. Everyone needs to take time to eat, sleep, exercise, and be with other people in the outside world.”
When one member is in the hospital, it is important for the whole family to continue to move forward. “Life does not stop because someone is in the hospital. Other family members need attention and support also,” she says. “Mom and Dad need to be role models more than ever at this time. The hospital team can help support and guide them. And they can feel strengthened and confident to continue to guide their families.”
Accept help from your community. “Friends, relatives, colleagues, and others will offer assistance, and it is critical to accept help,” says McElligott. “For example, coming home to a clean house and a meal in the refrigerator is very convenient and also comforting.” Online programs can be useful helpmates, such as those that coordinate meal organization, task and errand running and communication with family.
“Many times, key family members are reluctant to ask or receive help. Usually there are outgoing neighbors or colleagues who will serve as primary contacts to relieve the burden,” says McElligott. “People feel better when they have something to do; let them help and everyone will benefit.”
Ask a lot of questions. “Nurses, physicians, social workers and all medical staff are here to answer questions and offer resources,” says McElligott. “No individual could know what to expect when a severe injury occurs. That’s what medical professionals are for.”
Use a notepad or laptop and take notes when meeting with your health team. “Write down questions or concerns as they come to you and share them with your care team,” she says. “As they say in school, there are no bad questions, so do not feel shy or embarrassed. The more you know, the less you will fear.”
Talk to others about your experience. “Reach out to people for support by sharing your experience or what you have witnessed,” says McElligott. “Often, this will help reduce anxiety and build confidence.”
Sharing your story is often difficult and emotional at first, but becomes easier over time. “Talking helps define the event or injury, remove the emotion and perceived stigma, and can help identify next steps to move forward,” she says. “Getting feedback from others also can be reassuring and supportive.”
Use peer support. “Others who have walked the path you are on offer invaluable support, insight and understanding,” says McElligott. For example, Loyola offers a burn support group for patients and their families. “Speakers are brought in to share specific expertise, but the greatest benefit comes through the informal talking among families,” she says.
Keep a positive attitude. “People are very resilient,” she says. “The transformations that happen once the shock wears off are amazing.”
Financial worries are another burden related to an unexpected hospitalization. You’ll do yourself a favor if your family has planned for unforeseen emergencies and has adequate insurance to help cover all of the costs. Most people purchase medical insurance to cover the cost of care related to hospital confinement, but you could also need coverage to help with out-of-pocket medical expenses and other daily living expenses. For example, in 2010, the average hospital stay was 4.6 days1, with average hospital charges and out-of-pocket costs totaled $33,0791—in addition to any daily living expenses.
A hospital confinement plan is one option. It pays a cash benefit directly to you for each day you are hospitalized due to a wide range of different illnesses, accidents, or injuries, providing you with additional financial support in a variety of circumstances. This money can be used for anything you choose. It’s your money, your decision.
A fixed indemnity plan2 is a type of supplemental health insurance that can also be valuable. One of the benefits of these plans is that instead of paying doctors or hospitals, supplemental plans pay you directly. The benefits vary depending on the level of plan you choose, but they are given to you as direct cash benefits. This means that you can use your benefit amount however you need—to help cover hospital bills, to help with living expenses or even to help cover lost income from missing work. It can cover hospital confinement, outpatient surgery, emergency room care, outpatient X-ray and laboratory procedures, ambulance transport and physician office visits.