Hospice care provides support for terminally ill people and their families. There are several misconceptions about hospice, due to misunderstandings about what hospice is and a common reluctance to think about end-of-life realities. Clearing up these misunderstandings can help families better decide if, how and when to incorporate hospice into the care plan for a loved one.
Hospice care consists of a team of doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, pharmacists, social workers, spiritual counselors, companionship volunteers and bereavement specialists. The patient’s family, caregivers and physician are also members of the team. The purpose of hospice is to help patients spend their last days in as much physical and mental comfort as possible.
Hospice is not a specific place. Rather, it is a service that can be provided anywhere that the patient calls home—a house, apartment, assisted-living community, skilled nursing facility, hospital or any other location. Anyone who is terminally ill can receive hospice care, and he or she does not have to be bedridden.
Hospice costs are covered by Medicare and private insurance. The Medicare hospice benefit never expires, so the care can be continued for as long as the patient needs it. The benefit also covers the patient’s medication and medical equipment.
Many people view entering hospice as giving up. Michele Oblak of Senior Independence Hospice offered a different view: “The patient is not giving up when they enter hospice care. Rather, they are taking control. They decide what assistance they would like to have and when.”
Senior Independence Hospice recently assisted a Cleveland Heights woman whose terminally ill father was in a nursing home. They helped move him to the daughter’s house, and got him the medication and equipment he needed. He was able to die in the comfort of a family environment “The purpose of hospice is to maintain the patient’s quality of life for as long as possible,” said Oblak.
Laurie Henrichsen of Hospice of the Western Reserve agrees. “Many people don’t realize that hospice care can actually help prolong life, if it is started early,” she said. “It also reduces a lot of stress on the family.”
In order to receive the greatest benefit from hospice care, it should be started as soon as the patient is eligible, rather than waiting until the last few weeks of life.
Not all hospice care providers are alike, so Henrichsen recommends beginning a search early and evalutating the differences. “Ask for recommendations from family, friends and your doctor,” she said, “and put your end-of-life wishes in writing while you are still able to do so. This way your family will know how you prefer to spend your final days.”
Contact Senior Independence Hospice at 440-953-1256, and Hospice of the Western Reserve at 800-707-8922.