The Meaning of Hospice

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As a care manager, I don’t feel that every program or service is appropriate for everyone. For instance, outpatient therapy might not be the best recommendation for one person, but home health care may be a good fit. For some seniors, an active adult center is a great environment, but for others it could be disastrous. Automatic bill pay is a great service for some people, but gentle reminders to pay bills each month are a better solution for others. One non-medical home health company may fit the exact needs of some clients, while still other companies will work better for other individuals. It’s all very personalized.

Part of my work is spending the time to get to know each of my clients so that I can identify which programs and services will be best for their unique situation. There is, however, one program that I feel is worth discussing with each client when the time is appropriate – Hospice. I prefer to refer to Hospice as a benefit rather than a service because it is covered by Medicare. If a doctor certifies that an individual has a diagnosis or medical condition that could reasonably cause them to pass within six months, he or she will be eligible for Hospice.

Once enrolled in the program, an assessment is completed to determine the patient’s needs and preferences. The patient has access to a specialized team of professionals to individuals. A physician works with a social worker, bereavement counselor, chaplain, nurses, nurse’s aides and volunteers to provide comfort and wellness to the patient. Hospice includes a truly holistic, group approach to the practice of medicine. Hospice services can then be provided by the team anywhere the patient calls home.

To many people, the word “Hospice” is scary, confusing and intimidating. This is an unfortunate, “old school” view of the program, however. In reality, Hospice is really a comforting service that helps to bring peace and closure not only to the patient on his or her last journey, but also to the patient’s family. Hospice actually offers support to the family of a loved one who passed for up to thirteen months. In fact, many Hospice agencies hold memorial services each year and invite past patient’s loved ones to participate.

Hospice is not just a program meant for those who are going to pass away within days or hours; nor is it a program that just “speeds up the process of dying.” Sadly, even members of my own family have believed this to be the case in the past. While many patients receive Hospice services under these circumstances, this benefit is so much more. Receiving Hospice services does not mean that a person is giving up. It does mean that a person has reached a point in his life where he no longer wishes to pursue aggressive treatment of his or her illness, but will receive medications or treatments which will keep him or her comfortable, and will not prolong death. I am often disappointed that more patients do not take advantage of Hospice earlier on.

My experiences with Hospice have been very positive. When my clients begin receiving the service at the right time, I see tremendous improvements in their levels of comfort and quality of life. Not every Hospice agency is the same. Not every agency is right for every family and you do have a choice in who provides this service. I encourage you to research the agencies available to you and find the one that you feel is the best fit and do so as early as it seems appropriate. It truly is an experience that you won’t regret.