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New Cartoon Ad Campaign Seeks To Help People Talk About End-Of-Life Care

Screenshot of the Regional Hospice and Palliative Care website, showing one of the center's new

Facing the death of a loved one is heartbreaking. Managing their care as they pass can be overwhelming. Often families don’t even know how to begin talking about end-of-life care.  

Regional Hospice and Palliative Care in Danbury, Connecticut, has put together a cartoon ad campaign that they say will help take the taboo out of the topic of dying.

All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner recently spoke with Cynthia Roy, CEO of Regional Hospice, to discuss the campaign. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

How did Regional Hospice come up with the idea for these ads?

Well, I really wanted to have an ad campaign that was very out of the box, that was creative and took the scary part of hospice and end-of-life out of the discussion. So we put together a creative team and came up with a concept to do an animated campaign.  

You produced three ads. Here’s one of them narrated by an elderly father. He’s sitting in a chair in the living room while his three grown children are gathered at the kitchen table behind him discussing, “how to care for dad.” 

Humor is used in each of the ads. Have you found that people are responding well to your ads because of the humor?

We are. People are saying that they’re seeing the ads and they’re catchy, and they’re watching them and that’s the goal, is that people could have those conversations and talk about a really serious topic that makes it really accessible and light.  

Why did you decide to use cartoons rather than actors?

That’s a really good question. I think because people really do relate to animated characters in a way that’s not as scary and dark, and we felt that these are conversations that every family has or needs to have. And to have it animated people can really relate to that exact discussion. I can’t tell you how many families have had that same discussion of not wanting to bathe dad and feeling overwhelmed with that job.   

Two of the ads deal with elder care but one does feature a younger man and a girl who have a terminal illness. Is this one targeted more at the patient rather than the caregiver?

Actually that particular ad, which is our third ad, it’s called “Beep Beep,” was really geared towards patients that actually are in our center. We have an older gentleman and young child that are both patients and they got to know each other. And we wanted to tell that story that hospice care isn’t just for elderly people, it’s for all ages that are at any time at the end of their illness. And we see a very large pediatric population in Connecticut so we wanted people to know that children also do need hospice care.  

Are parents of younger people more averse to talking about end-of-life care than older adults or is this a topic that kind of bridges the generation gap, no one wants to talk about it.

I think it bridges the generation gap. I’ve had a very common thing happen where I’ve gone into homes of patient’s families and I’ve had an 80-year-old patient say to us, “Don’t tell my daughter I’m dying  I don’t want her to know.” And then we’ll go in a separate room and the daughter will say, “Don’t tell my mom she’s dying. I don’t want her to know.” This is a common issue regardless of the age of the patient, and one in which we really need to bring families together to have that dialogue.  

Have any other non-profit agencies reached out to you and say, “Hey can we buy the rights to those and use them on our website?”

Not yet but that actually is one of our goals because our concept of doing this campaign was to raise awareness across the board about hospice and end-of-life. And allowing families to have that discussion early on. So then people aren’t talking about it when they’re in the middle of a crisis.  

What have you found is the biggest challenge to getting families to talk about end-of-life care?

Exactly that. That people really wait ‘til it’s too late, ‘til they’re in the emergency room or the ICU and this is the third or fourth time their mother or spouse has been there. And then they realize, “Oh my gosh, we need to start having these discussions now. And what we really want to do is have people have those discussions at home, way before the crisis happens in a way that allows for an open dialogue in a way that supports the loved one.”

Can you tell us what is hospice care?

Absolutely. Hospice care is a philosophy of care for patients who are at the last six months to a year of life, who have a terminal illness. What happens when someone goes onto hospice is a whole disciplinary team comes into a home or a center like mine to provide services together. So it’s not just nurses, it’s physician services, it’s occupational therapy, it’s physical therapy. Home aide service to help with bathing and dressing and feeding. But the other thing people don’t realize is that volunteers are a huge part of hospice care. And volunteers come in and provide respite care or do errands for the patient or the family. So the whole team works together to provide that care. And lastly, all hospices also provide chaplain and spiritual care to the services.  

How did you get involved with hospice care?

I’ve been doing hospice 20 years this year. And I absolutely love what I do. I’m blessed to meet some of the most amazing patients and their families and I’m sure my staff feel the same way. I had a personal experience well over 30 plus years ago, I had a loved one die on hospice and it made a huge difference in my life and I know it makes a difference in other people’s lives. And I think if you had a really good hospice experience you really believe in it. You believe in the philosophy.  

Bill began his radio journey on Long Island, followed by stops in Schenectady, Bridgeport, Boston and New York City. He’s glad to be back on the air in Fairfield County, where he has lived with his wife and two sons for more than 20 years.