One of the persistent myths of hospice is that it’s only for the “very last moments of life.” As a result, many people view hospice as their last resort, when everything else has been done and they’re finally ready to “give up.”
Although people generally think positively of hospice care, there is a hesitation on the part of doctors, patients and families when it comes time to initiate hospice services. They think of hospice in terms of last days and hours rather than remaining weeks and months.
“The benefits of hospice care are greatest when people receive services early enough in a terminal diagnosis to address physical, emotional and spiritual needs,” said Jeanie Saum, RN, hospice coordinator for CHP Hospice. “We can still help patients at the very end, but at that point it’s mostly pain management and keeping them comfortable. But there is so much more to hospice care.”
Both local and national statistics show that hospice is greatly underutilized and often not initiated until a person is close to the end of their life…even though Medicare and most private insurance cover the benefit.
“It’s a communication issue,” Saum says. “Many more people could benefit from hospice if they understood all that it offers and most importantly, if they considered it earlier.”
Hospice is a Medicare benefit that people have paid for all of their working lives. Financially speaking, it makes sense to access as much of it as you can. It is wise to think of hospice not just at the very end, but as early as possible, when you can still gain months of social and spiritual support, expert pain and symptom management, comfort care, and valuable resources to guide both patient and family through the process.
So, what is the appropriate time to enter hospice? You can ask for a hospice referral as long as the condition has been determined to be end-stage with a six-month or less prognoses. The key here is the diagnosis is six months or less if the disease runs its natural course. However, a patient can be in hospice longer than six months.
“Even if your physician has not approached the discussion of hospice, you can ask for a referral,” Saum said. “You can also call us and we’ll contact the physician to initiate the process.”
When hospice care is offered early enough it enables patients to:
- Take control of their disease and symptoms
- Spend better quality time with family and friends with pain and symptoms managed
- Organize their personal affairs
- Have time to focus on relationships with loved ones
- Focus on spiritual health, needs, and issues
- Access to a nurse on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Hospice can be delivered at home, in a healthcare facility, or in an inpatient hospice setting. CHP Hospice provides compassionate care tailored for each individual and their loved ones, including:
- Skilled Nursing Care under the direction of your own doctor or our hospice physicians
- Comfort (palliative) services
- Therapies, including massage therapy
- Spiritual care from your minister or the hospice chaplain
- Counseling and support from licensed medical social workers
- Bereavement services for up to 13 months after a loss
- Support for patient and family hospice aides and trained volunteers
All medications, equipment and supplies related to the patient’s terminal illness are covered by Medicare and most insurance. Levels of care are adjusted to each individual in any of the following settings:
- Routine home care is the most common hospice care, provided at home or in a nursing facility on a regular basis
- Respite care is a temporary stay in an inpatient facility when loved ones need to take a break for any reason, for up to five consecutive days at a time
- Continuous care is beneficial during periods of crisis where a person requires continuous nursing care for pain and symptom management
- General inpatient is offered when a person’s pain or symptoms are unable to be treated in another setting and require a stay in a facility to receive the appropriate medication, treatment or emotional support needed
Hospice care is considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care for those who are facing a terminal illness or injury. Care is provided by a team of skilled professionals that address every aspect of a person’s well-being.
To learn more about hospice care call your closest CHP Home Care & Hospice office to speak with a registered nurse.