When someone mentions the word “hospice,” people often cringe or change the subject, fearing that hospice care somehow means giving up on life. Others view hospice with a lack of respect, as if it isn’t real medical care. I know this firsthand. I used to be employed in hospice as a volunteer coordinator. One day, I was talking about hospice and health care with my husband. I won’t ever forget my surprise (and dismay) when he casually said, “You don’t work in health care. Hospice isn’t health care because people in hospice die.” Needless to say, that was the start of an animated discussion where I explained to him the benefits of hospice as a part of the health care continuum.
So, what exactly is hospice? Some individuals, like my dear husband, get confused because the goal of hospice is caring, rather than curing. Hospice offers pain control and symptom management to those who are facing a life-limiting illness, such as cancer, dementia, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, end-stage kidney disease or any other diagnosis.
An individual must have a life expectancy of six months or less to qualify for hospice. People and their doctors are sometimes reluctant to start hospice care because they think initiating hospice care means giving up or may somehow hasten death. As a result, patients and their families may not get the opportunity to experience all the benefits hospice offers. However, research shows hospice care may help patients live longer. Hospice can also improve a person’s quality of life in their remaining days.
Hospice offers patients and their loved ones a range of physical and emotional support. A team of caring professionals led by a physician provides medical care, nursing visits, social work, personal care services, volunteer assistance, spiritual care and bereavement services. Hospice pays for drugs related to the terminal illness as well as for necessary medical supplies and equipment, such as a hospital bed or wheelchair. Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurance plans cover the costs of hospice, with care primarily paid through the Medicare Hospice Benefit.
Most hospice care occurs in homes, not in stand-alone hospice facilities or hospitals. Home is wherever the patient lives – whether in their longtime residence, a senior apartment, an assisted living community or a skilled nursing facility. Hospice staff is available for on-call assistance throughout the day and night.
According to AARP, nearly 90 percent of adults over age 65 want to continue living at home. Hospice can help patients and families achieve that goal even as the end of life draws near. As you might expect, older adults are most likely to receive hospice care – about 84 percent of hospice patients are over age 65.
Usually, a family member is the primary caregiver, and, unlike typical medical care, the focus of hospice care is on the individual and the family. Hospice provides compassionate care to patients throughout life and continues to support the family with bereavement services in the year following the death of their loved one.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization reports somewhere between 1.6 and 1.7 million patients received hospice care in 2014. About half of hospice patients received hospice care for 14 days or less. However, when you take into account all patients on hospice, the average length of service was 71 days in 2014.
Is hospice care health care? It certainly is. Hospice care supports individuals and families with compassion, tenderness, humor and courage in the remaining days of life.
For those who need additional in-home assistance with respite, companionship and personal care at end of life, we can help. Count on us for help when you need it.