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INELDA class photo

Imagine taking a journey on your own for the first time in a foreign country. You can prepare for it and venture out by yourself, but an experienced guide who can help navigate an unfamiliar landscape can make the journey more manageable and less stressful.

The role of a doula is much like a travel guide. Birth doulas, trained professionals who support a woman during and after childbirth, have been around through certified training programs and organizations since the 1980s. Doulas offer a safe and comforting presence in this time of emerging life. In September, Hosparus Health was pleased to help bring a new type of doula training to Louisville — the veteran end-of-life doula.

In 2003, Henry Fersko-Weiss began using the doula concept for an end-of-life doula program at a hospice in New York City. Adapting the role of birth doula to death, an end-of-life doula works closely with a dying person during their last days, helps them prepare for death and offers grief support to loved ones after they die.

Henry co-founded the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) in 2015 as the premier model for training and certifying doulas. INELDA regularly conducts trainings throughout the United States, immersing participants in a course that covers how to provide emotional, spiritual and physical support to the dying.

As part of INELDA’s mission of developing and certifying end-of-life doulas, Henry offers the training to prison inmates and military veterans at no cost. Lin Kalson, an Air Force veteran and Hosparus Health volunteer, worked with Henry to offer a weekend training in Louisville. Held at VFW Post 1170, the class of 19 veterans was the first to go through a veteran-specific INELDA training. Five Hosparus Health staff members also participated in the training, with the specific goal of improving care for our veteran hospice and palliative patients.

The veterans, half of whom had served in combat, in conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf War, came to the training eager to connect with one another to serve dying veterans. Since the INELDA training, several veteran participants have started the process of becoming a Hosparus Health volunteer.

Currently in the United States, more than 1,800 veterans die every day. In other words, 25% of all U.S. deaths are veterans. The needs of veterans at the end of life are unique, based on factors including whether they served in combat, their branch of service and their rank, and if they experienced PTSD.

Hosparus Health is proud to serve our armed services veterans through programs and services focused on improving the quality of life for our veterans and their families. From the admission process, to coordinating care with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) and other healthcare agencies, to providing a veteran-to-veteran volunteer program, we ensure that veterans are given the respect they deserve.

Pairing a veteran volunteer with a dying veteran enables a bond that dissolves mistrust and reticence. Veteran volunteers honor and support veterans facing the end of life in meaningful ways through life review and legacy projects, offering companionship and simply being there to listen and provide presence.

As a Level Three partner in the We Honor Veterans program, Hosparus Health has joined a national network of hospice and VA professionals, veterans and volunteers to provide end-of-life services that are customized to the specific needs of our nation’s vets. We recognize veterans for their service with a “We Honor Vets” certificate, in a presentation made by a veteran volunteer, which often includes a patriotic blanket handmade by one of our community partners. Our training programs for volunteer and staff are continually updated to ensure that we can meet the needs of veterans. In 2017, Hosparus Health was honored to serve 1,390 veterans.

Now, thanks to the framework provided by INELDA, we are proud to be able to engage the veteran community in new and innovative ways.

If you would like more information about our veteran programs or how to become a volunteer, please contact me at or 502-719-4155.

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