First Responders and Emergency Medical Services Personnel
Bereavement Sensitivity Training
First responders and EMTs will require greater focus on information related to
bereavement because they will be dealing with the deaths of these infants immediately.
The PowerPoint presentation provides greater detail on how to deal with families in a
compassionate and thoughtful manner during the crisis as well as enhancing the skills of
first responders when dealing with families such as:
- Comfort, never blame. The role of the prehospital professional in the setting of
unexpected infant or child death is difficult. After death has been determined,
prehospital professionals should comfort the parents and never blame. Offering
sensitive support to the family and gathering accurate information in a non-
threatening manner helps to alleviate the future emotional burden of the surviving
family members. This may be challenging, because the professional may be
struggling with overwhelming personal emotional responses to loss of a patient.
- Long-lasting impact on parents. Everything that a prehospital professional
says and does has a long-lasting impact on parents. Parents will carry what are
called “flashbulb memories” for many years. Every detail of the SIDS event will
be remembered, including what emergency personnel say and do. Prehospital
professionals should take care that you do not appear judgmental or blaming.
Phrasing of history questions which suggest responsibility must be avoided.
Misguided statements such as “looks like the baby might have suffocated” are
very harmful and are inappropriate. Prehospital professionals should not diagnose
or declare death.
- Assist parents with transportation. Prehospital professionals should allow
one parent to remain with the baby during transportation to the hospital and, if
possible, arrange for the other parent to be driven to the hospital, help the parents
secure the home and arrange for someone to care for any siblings.
- Notify the hospital so that bereavement support is alerted. The hospital can
have a nurse or social worker ready to meet the parents.
- Show compassion. Showing compassion and having a sympathetic attitude is very
important. There are no rules for dealing with parents’ reactions. Parents can
react in many ways—sometimes violent and angry, sometimes shocked and numb.
Prehospital professionals should not take things personally and be prepared for
expressions of anger and blame.
- Respect cultural differences. Sometimes, there is a cultural difference between
the prehospital professional and the parent or caregiver and this conflict may
appear in unrecognizable rituals and behaviors. This scenario represents another
important challenge to the professional. Cultural diversity, if not respected, can
deeply endanger the communication with the caregiver.
The presentation also includes information on the pros and cons of transporting suspected
SIDS infants, the prehospital professional’s immediate response to an infant death and
critical incident stress debriefing.