- What is hospice care?
Hospice is patient-centered care provided by a team of professionals that include a nurse, physician, chaplain, bereavement counselor, social worker, and volunteers, all of whom address more manageable end of life care for for the patient and making sure that all physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met. Any person regardless of age is eligible for hospice after being certified by a physician of having a life expectancy of six months or less.
The hospice team also provides support for the family of the patient during hospice and post-care including bereavement support, with care given wherever the patient lives: in their home, long-term care facilities, assisted living or retirement communities, rest homes, and hospitals.
It’s important to understand that hospice does not hasten death and is not a death sentence. Instead, it is about celebrating what time the patient has left, and making them as comfortable as possible, as most are living their day-to-day lives. Most often, hospice patients are able to remain in their homes surrounded by familiar surroundings, family, and friends.
- Who is best suited for hospice care?
Seriously ill patients who have decided that their priority is to have the best quality of life possible are the people who are best suited for hospice. Hospice specializes in easing pain, discomfort, and distress on all levels including physical, emotional, and spiritual. Some think that hospice is only for cancer patients, but in reality, patients with a multitude of various diseases are treated through hospice.
These include, but aren’t limited to cardiac and respiratory diseases, renal disease, and neurological illness, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, AIDS, Cirrhosis, heart disease, COPD (emphysema), and advanced dementia. Hospice can help manage pain from their disease, or the treatments they receive for the disease so that patients are comfortable yet alert and are able to enjoy each day to the fullest extent possible, given their medical condition.
- Should we wait for the doctor to suggest hospice?
You can, but doctors often wait too long or for families to bring it up. This is part of the reason that people often receive hospice care so late in the process. If you think your loved one and family might benefit from the support of weekly home visits from staff who specialize in pain control and the easing of distress, ask your doctor if hospice might be something to consider now, or in the near future.
- When is the best time to start hospice care?
Most patients and families who receive hospice care say they wish they had known about it earlier because they needed the help much sooner. Research has shown that hospice can increase both the quality of life and how long a patient lives. Families who receive hospice near the very end–just a few days to a week, have a harder time adjusting during the bereavement period than do those whose loved one received hospice care for weeks and months before passing on.
If you think your family and the person you care for could benefit from pain or symptom management, assistance with bathing and grooming, emotional and spiritual support, and telephone access to caregiving advice, ask your physician if you should consider hospice. It is better to ask sooner so you do not regret having missed the support that hospice has to offer.
- Who pays for hospice care?
This is a frequently asked question. If the patient has Medicare and meets hospice eligibility requirements, then the government will pay as much as 100 percent of the cost. In such a case, there is no deductible and no copayment.
Covered services include nursing care, doctor services, social workers, bereavement counselors, spiritual counselors, home health aides, volunteers, physical and speech therapy, short-term inpatient care (for pain and symptom management), short-term respite care, any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage your pain and other symptoms related to your terminal illness and related conditions, as recommended by your hospice team, all working under the direction of your physician. Medication and equipment and many personal supplies necessary for comfort and safety are also covered.
Individuals who do not have Medicare coverage but have coverage from private insurance should talk with their insurance company to find out about eligibility and what deductibles and copayments may apply. Medicaid provides coverage, but it varies by state.