Q. What is hospice?

A.

Hospice focuses on caring, not curing, those who are terminally ill. It is considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care for people at the end of life.

Hospice involves a team approach to expert medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Support is provided to the patient’s loved ones as well.

In most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home, but hospice can also be provided in freestanding hospice centers, hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Hospice services are available to patients of any age, religion, race or illness. Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, most private insurance plans, HMOs and other managed care organizations.

Typically, a family member serves as the primary caregiver and, when appropriate, helps make decisions for the terminally ill individual. Members of the hospice team make regular visits to assess the patient and provide additional care or other services. Hospice staff is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hospice team develops a care plan that meets each patient’s individual needs for pain management and symptom control. The team usually includes:

  • The patient' s personal physician
  • Hospice physician (or medical director)
  • Nurses
  • Home health aides
  • Social workers
  • Clergy or other counselors
  • Trained volunteers
  • Speech, physical, and occupational therapists (if needed)

Among its responsibilities, the hospice team:

  • Manages the patient’s pain and symptoms
  • Assists the patient with the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying
  • Provides needed drugs, medical supplies, and equipment
  • Coaches the family on how to care for the patient
  • Delivers special services like speech and physical therapy when needed
  • Makes short-term inpatient care available when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, or the caregiver needs respite time
  • Provides bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends.