Caring for Dying Patients in the Nursing Home: Voices From Frontline Nursing Home Staff

John G. Cagle, Kathleen T. Unroe, Morgan Bunting, Brittany L. Bernard, Susan C. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Context Nursing homes are an important site for end-of-life care, yet little is known about the perspectives of the frontline staff who provide a majority of this care. Objective To describe, from the staff perspective, positive/negative experiences related to caring for dying residents. Methods Qualitative analysis using survey data from staff working in 52 Indiana nursing homes. Results A total of 707 frontline staff who provide nursing, nurse aide, and social work services responded to open-ended prompts. Study data included responses to open-ended prompts asking participants to describe one positive experience and one negative experience caring for a dying patient. A thematic content analysis was conducted using the constant-comparative method. Respondents were largely female (93%), white (78%), 31–50 years (42%), and 53% had >5 years of nursing home work experience. Experiences were described from three perspectives: 1) first-hand experiences, 2) observed experiences of dying patients, and 3) observed experiences of family members. Selected themes for positive experiences include the following: creating close bonds; good patient care; involvement of hospice; being prepared; and good communication. Selected themes for negative experiences consisted of the following: challenging aspects of care; unacknowledged death; feeling helpless; uncertainty; absent family; painful emotions; and family discord. Conclusion Findings reveal the richness and many complexities of providing end-of-life care in nursing homes and have implications for improving staff knowledge, coordination of care with hospice, and social support for patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-207
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Long-term care
  • death
  • hospice
  • palliative care
  • person-centered care
  • quality of dying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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