What Is Hospice And What Does It Offer Patients And Their Families?

Over 50% of people dying in the USA use hospice and it’s rising because families appreciate the service.  The goal of hospice is to help someone with a terminal illness live comfortably and then die peacefully, with dignity, wherever they may live (home or nursing home).

“Terminal” means having a life-limiting disease which both their physician and the hospice medical director agree will cause that person to die within six months if the disease runs its usual course. 

Life-limiting diseases include:  Alzheimer’s, cancers, end-stage heart or lung or kidney disease.    

Once accepted by a hospice, patients will be visited by a nurse on a daily to weekly basis depending on need.  Aides may provide assistance with bathing/dressing and help educate families about caring for their loved one.

Hospice is truly a team effort:  every agency should also have licensed social workers, chaplains, volunteers, and bereavement counselors.  Bereavement support is mandated for 13 months following death.

Since it is a completely insured benefit (covered by Medicare and other insurers), there are no costs to families:  beds, oxygen, diapers, and other equipment will be provided, along with drugs to control pain and other symptoms; however, some drugs (such as for blood pressure) are usually not. 

Hospice agencies are reimbursed by insurers for each day of service provided.  Even if not insured, every hospice is obligated ethically to accept a patient as indigent care (unfortunately not all do!).

Choosing hospice does not mean one is giving up; rather, it ensures comfort as we let go — to our next life.