News Releases

UMSON Assistant Professor Awarded Research Grant to Help Families Through Death of a Loved One

December 14, 2012

Baltimore, Md. – Critical care deaths represent the majority of hospital deaths and most occur after decisions are made to withhold and/or withdraw life-sustaining therapy. Family members are often intricately involved in the end-of-life decision making process and are present during their loved one’s final journey leading up to death, which can be devastating. Debra Wiegand, PhD, RN, CCRN, CHPN, FAHA, FAAN, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, has been awarded a two-year, $422,125 R21 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research/National Institutes of Health to investigate how best to prepare families for the dying process.

Past studies have shown that families of patients who die in the critical care setting are at increased risk for psychological and physical problems. Some families have reported that they were prepared and supported through the end-of-life decision making process, but not after life-sustaining therapy had been withdrawn from their family member.

Wiegand’s study will explore the best clinical approaches for preparing and supporting families through the dying process of critically-ill patients. Goals of the study are to develop and refine educational and psychological support interventions to prepare families for this difficult time and to determine if the proposed new approaches are acceptable to families.

“Our study will assist nurses, physicians, and other clinicians in understanding how to help grieving family members through the end-of-life process. The information and support that family members receive from clinicians can be a source of comfort during the bereavement process,” Wiegand said. “We hope that the findings of our research will be a monumental step forward in helping and supporting these families through an extremely difficult transition.”

Approximately 60 family members will participate in this research. Investigators will focus on the outcomes of the study and the processes to achieve them while considering barriers, facilitators, intervention fidelity, and the feasibility of a larger project.          

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The University of Maryland School of Nursing, founded in 1889, is one of the oldest and largestnursing schools, and is ranked eleventh nationally. Enrolling more than 1,700 students in its baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs, the School develops leaders who shape the profession of nursing and impact the health care environment.