Busting the Myths: What Hospice Does and Doesn’t Do
Knowing what hospice care offers can help you make better decisions down the road. While many doctors fail to mention hospice services to patients in the final stages of their lives, millions of families can benefit from this humane mode of care.
What is hospice care? Generally, hospice is requested by a doctor who has given a patient a prognosis of a life limiting illness (terminal illness) with a life expectancy of six months or less. It’s covered by most health insurance plans and Medicare. The goal of hospice and palliative care is to maximize the patient’s overall comfort, reduce chronic pain and bolster the quality of life. It’s focused on dignity and humane decisions instead of relentless attempts at curative treatments.
What does it cover? When a doctor certifies a patient for hospice care, it triggers a range of services that are covered by Medicare Part A. In addition to medical and nursing services, hospice offers social workers, grief counseling and even physical and occupational therapy. The emphasis is on accommodating the patient and his or her family, and on enhancing the patient’s comfort.
There’s a lot of confusion about the role of hospice and what it does or doesn’t do. Read on for seven important things to know about hospice programs:
1. Hospice is a philosophy of care, not a physical location. Most people say they want to die at home, but only about one in four end up doing so. The reason? Trying to care for someone with a serious illness at home is simply too hard. But hospice care makes it possible. Hospices bring everything to the home—hospital bed, bedside commode, medications, bandages, experts for consultation—all tailored to the patient’s needs. Hospice care is also available in hospitals and nursing homes.
2. Hospice teams are multidisciplinary. They typically consist of a physician and nurse (both on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week); a social worker, counselor or chaplain; and a volunteer. Many hospices offer added services, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, home health aides, art or pet therapists, nutritionists, and occupational, speech, massage or physical therapists. Patients may also continue to see their regular doctor and remain in charge of their medical decisions, as appropriate.
3. Hospice doesn’t speed up death. It’s important to know that people who use hospice care don’t die faster. In some cases, patients in hospice actually live longer because their quality of life has improved. The main difference between hospice and “regular” medical care is that the focus is no longer on curative treatments, But in reality, many curative treatments are carry high risks for older adults, aren’t likely to succeed, and simply cause unnecessary suffering.
4. Hospice isn’t just for the last few days or weeks of one’s life. Hospice care is for people in the last stages of life, not just for people who are on the verge of death. To be eligible for hospice services, a patient must have a prognosis of six months or less to live. However, hospice services provide more benefit to patients and their families when they enroll earlier rather than in the final days or weeks of life.
5. Pain management in hospice enables patients to live well, not sedate them. People often mistakenly think pain medicine will make the person sleepy to the point where they can't interact. But in truth, if you live with pain unnecessarily, it makes you more tired and irritable, and robs you of quality of life. When drugs like morphine are used, it's to treat anxiety and to lessen pain, not to hasten death, as many people mistakenly believe.
6. Hospice is for the entire family. It may not be easy for family members to witness delirium or understand the body language of someone who can no longer speak, for example. A hospice nurse can help interpret what's happening, clarify questions about the patient’s health, and describe the signs of imminent death. And when loved ones need a break, hospice patients can spend up to five days at a time in inpatient respite care, such as in a nursing home or hospice facility.
7. Hospice provides ongoing support following death. Hospice provides continuing contact and support for caregivers and families for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one. Most hospice organizations also sponsor bereavement groups, assist with memorial services, and provide support for anyone in the community who has experienced the loss of a family member, friend, or loved one.
As the hope for recovery evolves into the hope for a life ending in comfort and dignity, hospice patients live their lives with a sense of personal worth for the time remaining to them. If you have additional questions about hospice or want to learn more, please reach out to us anytime. Our compassionate funeral directors are always happy to assist you.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.