It’s common to think of hospice as a place you go to die, but it is so much more. Hospice brings support and comfort to patients who can no longer benefit from medical treatment, and to their families as well. Hospice may be involved in a patient’s life for up to two years. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defines hospice as quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury.
Hospice involves a team approach to medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support that is tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. “At the center of hospice and palliative care is the belief that each of us has the right to die pain-free and with dignity, and that our families will receive the necessary support to allow us to do so.”
What services does hospice provide?
Hospice services are wide-ranging and designed to meet the needs of the individual patient and the family. The services begin with making the patient comfortable and continue through the patient’s illness and death to counsel the family. Hospice can provide:
- Management of the patient’s pain and symptoms
- Assistance with the emotional, psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying
- Drugs, medical supplies, and equipment
- Education for the family on how to care for the patient
- Special services like speech and physical therapy when needed
- Short-term inpatient care when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home or the caregiver needs respite care
- Bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends
These services can be provided wherever the patient is, whether it is in-home care, skilled nursing, or a long-term care facility.
How do you access hospice services?
Hospice services begin when the primary care physician determines that nothing more can be done to improve the medical condition of the patient. The patient is then referred to hospice so that services can begin. A member of hospice will meet with the patient and family members to discuss why types of services and care are needed to make the patient comfortable. Care is coordinated with all members of the hospice team that usually includes the following:
- The patient’s primary care physician
- Hospice physician (or medical director)
- Home health aides
- Social workers
- Clergy or other counselors
- Trained volunteers
- Speech, physical, and occupational therapists, if needed.
Usually, a family member remains as the patient’s primary caregiver. Hospice staff members will visit the patient regularly and provide care and services that are needed.
One of the most important services for family members is that hospice staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are a resource for questions, services and can act as a sounding board for family members during a very difficult time of life.
How do I choose a hospice?
Your loved one’s primary care physician or the social worker at the hospital will give you the names of the hospice organizations in your area. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has a lot of information on how to select one and questions to ask about their services and qualifications. You can find a downloadable guide here.
At the most difficult time of life, hospice provides essential services to support and comfort the patient and family.