What is Hospice Care?

When people hear the word “hospice” they think that death is imminent, doctors have given up and there is nothing left that can be done. On the contrary, hospice care can look very different. If started early, people with a life-limiting illness can live fully and comfortably with a coordinated healthcare approach that focuses on quality of life.

Hospice care is appropriate for any serious illness at any age, when a curative treatment is no longer achievable, or the burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits.

A hospice team will focus on the quality of life of a person, and provide pain management, emotional and spiritual support tailored to meet the wishes and needs of the individual and family. This care is provided through a multidisciplinary team of experts and specialists – among them nurses, doctors, social workers, spiritual advisors, and trained volunteers. Everyone works together with the person who is dying, the caregiver, and/or the family.

The hospice team, together with the patient and family, will develop a plan of care. A member of the hospice team visits regularly, and someone is usually available by phone — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When Can Someone Receive Hospice Care?

People often don’t begin hospice care soon enough to take full advantage of the support it can provide. Starting hospice early in the disease process may result in additional months of meaningful and quality time with loved ones.

A person can be enrolled in hospice when a healthcare provider believes that should the person’s illness or disease take its natural course, he or she would die within six months. However, this can be very difficult to predict, and it is not unusual for people to be on hospice longer than six months.

How Is Hospice Care Covered?

Medicare covers all aspects of hospice care and services, and Medicaid offers similar coverage. If you are under the age of 65, it is best to check with your insurance company to find out what costs are covered. Many insurance plans provide some coverage for hospice care.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) offers hospice services and contracts with local community hospice providers. Any veteran with the VHA Standard Medical Benefits Package is eligible. There is no copay.

For people who are not insured, or who may not have full coverage for hospice services, some hospice organizations may offer care at no cost or at a reduced rate based on your ability to pay. They can often do this because of donations, grants, or other funding sources. Nearly all hospices have financial support staff who can answer your questions and help you get the care you need.

Where Does Hospice Care Take Place?

Hospice services are provided wherever a person considers home. This may be their private residence or that of a loved one, an assisted living center, nursing home, or in some cases, a hospital.

While hospice provides considerable support, it is important to understand that if a person is living at home, the day-to-day care of receiving hospice care is provided by family, friends or through a caregiving service. The hospice team coaches caregivers on how to care for the patient and is available by phone.

Hospice care can also be provided in a senior living community or nursing facility. The hospice benefit covers the cost of the care related to the disease or diagnosis, but it does not cover daily room and board charges of the facility.

If a patient needs 24/7 care, hospices may transport the patient to a special inpatient facility for a short period of time to manage symptoms, with the goal of returning the patient to their home. This cost is covered under hospice.

What Is Respite?

For patients being cared for at home, some hospice providers offer respite care to allow friends and family to have a break from caregiving. Respite care can be provided for up to five days each time it is used. During this time, the patient is cared for either in a hospice facility or in beds that are set aside in nursing homes or hospitals.

Finally,

  • Hospice care does not hasten death. Instead, the disease is allowed to progress naturally, with the hospice team providing pain, physical symptom, and emotional support during the process.
  • Patients can leave hospice at any time for any reason. Patients can also come back to hospice, as long as they meet hospice eligibility guidelines.  
  • People receiving hospice care will continue to take medications. While they will no longer be receiving curative treatments, an important part of the hospice care plan is to ensure that symptoms are managed, allowing the patient to have an improved quality of life.
  • When someone is receiving hospice, medical equipment and supplies related to the cause of the illness are included in the hospice benefit. This may include shower chairs, oxygen tanks, hospital beds, wheelchairs or walkers.

Hospice supports the family. The hospice team provides emotional and spiritual support to the patient’s loved ones as they navigate caregiving, and also offers bereavement support to the family.

Selecting a Hospice Provider

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Education/Resources

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What is Hospice Care?

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