When a loved one is terminally ill, the thought of his or her eventual passing may be overwhelming, and there may come a time when the doctors can’t do anything more for a patient. It is at this time that hospice care may be an option. Originally started in 1974, in Connecticut, hospice doesn't fight illness, but rather is supportive and palliative (comfort-based) care designed to make a person’s limited time left as easy on the patient and family as possible. It incorporates a well-rounded plan for easing the process of dying. It should be mutually respectful and dignified between the patient, caregivers, and family members.
It may be a good idea to educate yourself ahead of time so, when the time comes, you know what to do and how to seek help no matter where you need it (social workers, nurses, physicians, a chaplain, counseling, or medical appliances and supplies). Here are some things to you may want to know about before you consider turning to hospice care:
- How do I know when it’s time to start a hospice program for my loved one, and who sets it up? It is important to discuss options as soon as possible when a life-limiting illness has been identified. Patients may have their own wishes that by law should be carried out. A personal physician may recommend hospice care when a patient’s life expectancy is less than six months.
- Should I wait for our physician to raise the possibility of hospice, or should I ask about it? At any time, the patient and family may ask the personal physician or any of the care team about hospice.
- What happens in hospice care, and where? Most hospice is individualized and conducted at the patient’s home. If that option is not ideal for the particular situation, a hospice facility (nursing home, hospital unit, or inpatient hospice) can be identified. Hospice care varies depending on the patient and family’s needs. Staff is on call “24/7” for emergencies. The goal is to make the patient and family comfortable no matter the amount of service needed. The physician and care team can help decide what is best for the patient and family, and identify costs.
- Is hospice care expensive? Hospice can be less expensive than hospital care, because in the hospital, complete care is billed. In contrast, hospice care only covers what is needed to make the patient and family comfortable. A family member can help provide care in the home with the help of other professionals reducing costs. Most hospice care may be covered by Medicare Hospice Benefit leaving very little expense to the patient’s family. Hospice helps walk the family through this whole process, identifying what’s covered, what services are needed, and may even provide services paid for by community funds or foundation gifts when Medicare or personal insurance coverage isn’t available.
- Is hospice related to any religious affiliation? No. Some hospitals may have their own hospice related to whichever religious affiliation of the hospital, but most community hospices are non-denominational or do not require patients to adhere to any set beliefs.
- Will hospice do anything to make death come sooner, and how successful are they at managing pain? Hospice doesn’t hasten or postpone dying. It does view death as a natural process, and just like in childbirth, is present to help those going through the process to make it as stress-free and easy as possible. Hospice care professionals are trained in ushering people through the process, and are very successful at managing both spiritual and physical pain with medication, counseling, and specialized therapies.
- If my loved one's health improves, can he or she receive hospital or physician-based care again to try to battle their illness?
- By all means, yes. If your loved one's condition goes into remission, or improves, they can stop hospice care. Likewise, if their condition declines again, they can again begin hospice.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your team of health care professionals, and only scratches the surface of considering hospice. Make sure you know all you can so when the time comes you are prepared and will know what to do. It may be a saving grace in a very difficult time.
www.hospicenet.org Hospice: Frequently Asked Questions
www.nahc.org Hospice Facts & Stastictics
www.medicare.gov Considering Hospice Care
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Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.