Critical access hospitals were created to bring health care to rural populations. These hospitals lack equipment and resources, but the nurses who work there still provide end-of-life care to critically ill and dying patients.


To determine how nurses in critical access hospitals perceive the size of obstacles and helpful behaviors for the provision of end-of-life care.


Questionnaires were sent to a cross-sectional, nationally representative sample of nurses working in 39 critical access hospitals. The nurses were asked to score obstacle and helpful behavior items on a scale of from 0 (not an obstacle or not a help, respectively) to 5 (extremely large obstacle or extremely large help, respectively). The items were then ranked from highest to lowest according to their mean scores.


Seven of the top 10 obstacles were directly related to family behaviors and attitudes, such as families not understanding what lifesaving measures entail and internal family disagreements about life support. Helpful behaviors ranked in the top 10 included interventions that were controlled by nurses and items that affected the nurses’ having adequate time to deliver end-of-life care. Obstacles and helpful behavior items unique to critical access hospitals, such as a lack of resources and the nurse knowing the patient or the patient’s family, ranked below the top 10 items.


Obstacles and helpful behaviors for providing end-of-life care remain consistent. Nurses in critical access hospitals are accustomed to working without the typical resources found in urban hospitals and thus did not perceive resource deficits to be among the greatest obstacles to providing end-of-life care. Family behaviors and attitudes remain the most dominant obstacle noted by nurses.

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