The ‘Wonder’ of Hospice

It’s amazing to me how many people don’t really know what hospice is.  Oh yes, they connect the word “hospice” with the word “dying,” but in reality there is so much more to hospice.  Here are a couple of recent examples I’d like to briefly share which show what I mean:

Story #1:  My brother and his wife (NB) chose to move in with her parents, in order to take care of her father (88) who had Alzheimer’s. As things progressed and he became more severely incapacitated, NB was connected with hospice. At first she wasn’t sure she needed all they offered, but as time went by, it became very clear that hospice was indeed a blessing.  Not only did they have a visit from the nurse each week, but a nurse was always available by phone.  The hospice staff provided a ‘lift’ so that NB could get her Dad into the bathroom, off/on the bed; they provided other items such as a wheelchair, commode, and pads for the bed.  NB and my brother who were great caregivers, also needed support; and they got it through the hospice staff.

Story #2:  Most people want to be in their own home when they are dying.  But there are times when the medical needs of that individual are too severe for family to take care of or there may be other reasons such as this:   I have a friend who had planned to bring her 70 year old husband from the hospital to their home and be under the care of hospice there; but in this case, the husband decided that he didn’t want his wife to go through all that would be required.  After being home for a day or two, he opted to go to a hospice facility, where he lived for just a couple more weeks.  During that short period of time, he was well cared for, he received the medication he needed to keep his significant pain under control, and what was really special for him was that the facility allowed his wife to bring in his dog.

So, what is Hospice?

It’s teamwork!  It’s a team of care providers and caregivers who provide compassionate care in order to alleviate symptoms and provide an improved quality of life for an individual who is at the end of their life.  But, in addition, the team also takes into consideration the specific needs of both the individual and the family.

How does Hospice Work?  

Hospice uses a team approach utilizing the services of people such as:  nurses, doctors, social workers, pharmacists, hospice aides, clergy and volunteers in providing the care.  Often, the hospice approach also offers respite care workers who are trained volunteers; and can take over the patient’s care so that family or other caregivers can spend a few hours away.

Selected points about Hospice:    (please refer to

1. Hospice care usually takes place in the comfort of the home, but this can also be any place the individual lives (e.g., assisted living, extended care facility).

2. In addition to hospice care being available through Medicare and Medicaid, most private insurance and/or managed care plans also include it as a benefit.  Many hospice providers will provide service to anyone regardless of their ability to pay.

3. Before entering into hospice care, two physicians (including the hospice physician) must certify that the patient has a diagnosis of a terminal illness and a life expectancy of six months or less.

4. If the patient lives beyond the initial six months, hospice care can still continue as long as the physician recertifies that the patient is terminally ill.  (The rate of decline in a patient with a serious illness can vary from person to person as well as from disease to disease).

5. Hospice highly encourages and reinforces the relationship of the patient with his/her  primary care physician (PCP).

What is covered under Hospice care?

There are several services that hospice provides.  To name a few:

  • Nursing and physician services
  • Home health aides
  • Medications for relief of pain and management of symptoms
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Trained volunteers
  • Dietary counseling
  • Respite care for family members
  • Social work services
  • Psychological and spiritual counseling for the patient

This article is a brief look about an extremely valuable and caring service.  However according to a recent article, “hospice care is used more, but often too late.”  One method for locating hospice services in your community is by accessing the Hospice Directory.  You could also “search” the Web for local hospice services.  Finally, and maybe even more important is to ask friends or other family members if they have used local hospice services in the past and what their impressions were.  In conclusion, don’t hesitate to ask for hospice services when they are needed.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention” author unknown