What is hospice care, and who is it for?

Laura Archuleta, MD
St. Alexius Center for Family Medicine - Mandan

What is hospice care, and who is it for?Hospice is one of the best-kept secrets for patients with life-threatening illnesses and their loved ones.  It’s a relatively new service.  The first hospice in the United States was established in Connecticut in 1974.  Today, there are more than 4,700 hospice programs in the United States.  Many people have heard of hospice before, but until they need to utilize it, most people fail to understand how it works.

When an illness or condition no longer responds to medicine or treatment, many families and patients turn to hospice.  Because there’s only a certain amount of time left to live, the goal of the care provided through hospice is very specific, focusing on quality of life and managing symptoms.  Hospice treatments neither prolong nor shorten life expectancy.  Patients should have a life expectancy of six months or less to qualify for the service.

Hospice cares for the entire person physically, emotionally and spiritually.  People with chronic illnesses are often defined by their diseases.  Hospice treats the person and the family, not the disease.  Hospice care is provided by a team of specially-trained professionals.  The main players are nurses, social workers, volunteers and chaplains.  Caregivers often include therapists, nutritionists or anyone else involved in the patient’s well-being.

There are many benefits to choosing hospice care.  Services can be provided in nursing homes, but most visits from care providers take place in the comfort of the patient’s own home.  All services, appliances and supplies needed in the care of the patient are brought into the home setting.  One of the most unique components of hospice care is that it offers a variety of bereavement and counseling services to families up to 13 months after the patient’s death.

Hospice care is a covered benefit under Medicare for patients with a prognosis of six months or less.  The benefit covers all services, medications and equipment related to the illness.  Many private health insurance policies and HMOs also offer hospice coverage and benefits.

It’s important to know all options available when caring for someone at the end of their life.  Hospice isn’t for everyone, but understanding how it works could help you in making the best decisions for yourself or a loved one when the time comes.

Learn more about Hospice at St. Alexius.