Implementing a Bereavement Follow-up Program in a Hospital Emergency Department


  • Gai Harrison Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital


emergency departments, death, family, bereavement, social work, hospital


In recognition of the fact that traumatic or sudden deaths in the hospital emergency department can be a distressing experience for families, we piloted a follow-up bereavement service for relatives confronted with an unexpected death. Bereaved families were forwarded a personalised condolence card including the contact details of a social worker to allow them an opportunity to discuss any outstanding concerns about the death. Referral options were provided to relatives requiring ongoing support. Data were collected on the number and nature of follow-up calls, including requests for additional information about the death. Lessons learnt from the pilot were that assessments of each family’s situation and the circumstances of the death are crucial before initiating contact. Interpersonal violence and complex family dynamics are compounding factors that may contraindicate follow-up. Rather than adopt a standardised approach, bereavement follow-up in the emergency department needs to be tailored to the circumstances of each family.


Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). (2020). Australian Association of Social Workers code of ethics 2020.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2022). Emergency department care 2021–22.

Bateman, V. L. (2015). Ethical decision maker or “champion” of the dying and bereaved?: The contribution of the hospital social worker to end-of-life and bereavement care. Grief Matters, 18(3), 58–63.

Bayuo, J., Anago, E. K., Agyei, F. B., Salifu, Y., Kyei Baffour, P., & Atta Poku, C. (2022). “Resuscitate and push”: End-of-life care

experiences of healthcare staff in the emergency department – A hermeneutic phenomenological study. Journal of Palliative Care,

(4), 494–502.

Berbís‐Morelló, C., Mora‐López, G., Berenguer‐Poblet, M., Raigal‐Aran, L., Montesó‐Curto, P., & Ferré‐Grau, C. (2019). Exploring

family members’ experiences during a death process in the emergency department: A grounded theory study. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 28(15-16), 2790–2800.

Boelen, P. A. (2020). Traumatic grief following traumatic loss: Nature, correlates, and treatment. Grief Matters, 23(1), 14–19.

Boven, C., Dillen, L., Van den Block, L., Piers, R., Van Den Noortgate, N., & Van Humbeeck, L. (2022). In-hospital bereavement

services as an act of care and a challenge: An integrative review. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 63(3), e295–e316.

Cooper, J. J., Stock, R. C., & Wilson, S. J. (2020). Emergency department grief support: A multidisciplinary intervention to provide

bereavement support after death in the emergency department. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 58(1), 141–147.

Fox, M., McIlveen, J., & Murphy, E. (2021). Death, dying and bereavement care during COVID-19: Creativity in hospital social work

practice. Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice, 20(1-2), 131–137.

Ito, Y., Tsubaki, M., & Kobayashi, M. (2022). Families’ experiences of grief and bereavement in the emergency department: A scoping

review. Japan Journal of Nursing Science , 19(1), e12451–n/a.

Jang, K., & Choe, K. (2019). Bereavement experiences after the unexpected death of an older family member in the emergency

department. International Emergency Nursing, 42, 7–11.

Koopmann-Holm, B., Bruchmann, K., Fuchs, M., & Pearson, M. (2021). What constitutes a compassionate response? The important

role of culture. Emotion, 21(8), 1610–1624.

LeBrocq, P., Charles, A., Chan, T., & Buchanan, M. (2003). Establishing a bereavement program: Caring for bereaved families and

staff in the emergency department. Accident and Emergency Nursing, 11(2), 85–90.

Merlevede, E., Spooren, D., Henderick, H., Portzky, G., Buylaert, W., Jannes, C., Calle, P., Van Staey, M., De Rock, C., Smeesters, L.,

Michem, N., & van Heeringen, K. (2004). Perceptions, needs and mourning reactions of bereaved relatives confronted with a sudden

unexpected death. Resuscitation, 61(3), 341–348.

Moon, F., & McDermott, F. (2021) Social work end-of-life care interventions for patients and their families in hospital, Australian Social Work, 74(3), 276–293.

Parris, R. J., Schlosenberg, J., Stanley, C., Maurice, S., & Clarke, S. F. J. (2007). Emergency department follow-up of bereaved relatives:

An audit of one particular service. Emergency Medicine Journal: EMJ, 24(5), 339–342.

Silloway, C. J., Glover, T. L., Coleman, B. J., & Kittelson, S. (2018). Filling the void: Hospital palliative care and community hospice:

A collaborative approach to providing hospital bereavement support. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 14(2-3),


Williams, A. G., O’Brien, D. L., Laughton, K. J., & Jelinek, G. A. (2000). Improving services to bereaved relatives in the emergency

department: Making healthcare more human. Medical Journal of Australia, 173(9), 480–483.