What is hospice?

Hospice is a special concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families. Patients are referred to hospice when life expectancy is approximately six months or less. Hospice care can continue longer than six months if needed but requires physician certification. Here are some facts about hospice care:

         Hospice is not a place. Most hospice care takes place within the dying personís home, whether it is his or her own home, the home of a family member or friend, a nursing or assisted living facility. Other options, if available from the provider, include a residential hospice facility or a hospice unit within a hospital.

         Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death. Hospice staff and volunteers offer a specialized knowledge of medical care, including pain management.

         The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient's last weeks, days and hours by offering comfort and dignity.

         Hospice care is provided by a team-oriented group of specially trained professionals (including as physicians, nurses, social workers, clergy), as well as volunteers and family members.

         Hospice addresses all symptoms of a disease, with a special emphasis on controlling a patient's pain and discomfort.

         Hospice deals with the emotional, social and spiritual impact of the disease on the patient and the patient's family and friends.

         Hospice offers a variety of bereavement and counseling services to families before and after a patient's death.

         Hospice professionals make routine visits to the home, but family and/or friends are nearly always involved in care. Some families choose to hire additional services from private nursing agencies, which are typically not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance.

         Hospices use trained volunteers to help with household chores and to give family caregivers respite time. For example, a volunteer can give the family caregiver a chance to run errands or simply take a walk or nap.

         If a patientís condition improves during hospice care or if the patient desires, the patient can discontinue hospice care.

Many hospice professionals believe people who are referred earlier, rather than later, benefit most from hospice care.