When a loved one is terminally ill and has a prognosis of six months or less to live, choosing hospice care may be the best way to ensure that the person spends his or her last days as comfortable and pain-free as possible. With a focus on caring and not curing, a hospice team usually includes a nurse, social worker, chaplain, and volunteers. Hospice services are often provided at the patient’s home, but can also be provided at a hospital, an assisted living or nursing home facility, or at a hospice center.   

Making the decision for hospice care is not “giving up on the person” or taking away a patient’s rights. On the contrary, when medical treatments are no longer working and the patient wants to focus on quality of life, hospice supports that person’s wishes. The hospice team offers expert medical care and support to the patient and to his/her family. In addition to providing medications, medical supplies, and other equipment as needed, the hospice team coordinates care with other healthcare provides to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and unwanted medical interventions.

The team offers the patient and his/her family emotional and spiritual support, respite care when needed, and education for the family on the end-of-life process. They will also manage the patient’s symptoms and level of pain, and are available for crisis response around the clock. Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance plans.

How does a family know which hospice service they should contact? The patient’s physician can make a referral and if the family is working with a geriatric care manager, the care manager can also provide guidance. When selecting a hospice service, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the former American Hospice Foundation recommends that families ask questions such as:

  • Is the hospice Medicare-certified, accredited, and if required, state-licensed?
  • How quickly will someone respond to a crisis? Will someone come to the home any time of day or night, or weekends, in the event of a crisis that the family cannot manage?
  • Are there any treatments the patient is currently receiving that the hospice cannot provide?
  • What are the caregiving expectations for family members and can the hospice meet the patient’s specific needs?
  • What are the options for inpatient care if the patient has to be moved from home to manage symptoms?
  • Is respite care offered and if so, under what circumstances?

Hospice care is a comprehensive service for both the terminally ill person and his/her family. For more information, visit https://medlineplus.gov/hospicecare.html