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What You Should Know About Hospice Care

In anticipation of the opening of the new Orlando Health Palliative Care Inpatient Unit in conjunction with Cornerstone Hospice & Palliative Care, this blog was written in partnership with Michael Shapiro, MD, HMDC, Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director.

Nearly 1.7 million Americans received hospice care last year, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Hospice provides medical care and support for those who have a life-threatening illness. Hospice care focuses on symptom management and quality of life for the patient and family, rather than a curative treatment of the disease process.

Taking care of a terminally-ill loved one is incredibly difficult for family caregivers. Hospice care, which can take place in the home, facility or hospital, provides support to the patient and his or her family. Often, this support is emotional and spiritual as well as medical, helping family members navigate the final stages of a loved one’s illness and providing the best care possible.

Though millions of people receive hospice care each year, there are still some misconceptions that surround how this treatment model works. However, it’s important for all families to understand it.

Understanding Hospice Care

Hospice is a treatment model focused on providing compassionate, quality-focused care for patients with a life-limiting illness. It’s available to any person in this situation, regardless of age, beliefs or location. A “Do Not Resuscitate” order is not required to access hospice services.

Hospice care is available for patients who reside in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, but often people prefer to receive hospice services in their home. The interdisciplinary team consists of nurses, physicians, social workers, volunteers, home health aides, therapists, chaplains and bereavement counselors. Hospice is available to the patient and family around-the-clock, including weekends and holidays.

Hospice does not mean a person stops receiving quality medical care, but that the care is more focused on providing comfort rather than curing the underlying illness. Treatment can include traditional medical care, as well as alternative therapeutic approaches such as journaling or pet and music therapy. People often think of hospice care as a last resort, but there is so much more that hospice can do. Hospice not only helps the individual take more ownership over their illness and plan of care but can assist with providing related medications and much needed equipment at no cost to the individual or family.

Who Receives Hospice Care?

Another misconception is that only the elderly or those with cancer are eligible for hospice. However, of all the patients accessing hospice services in 2014, 36% were diagnosed with cancer as their primary admitting diagnosis. This clearly shows that the majority of patients and families receiving hospice care do not have, or need to have, an underlying cancer diagnosis.

So many families will be faced with the decision about whether to seek hospice care. For this reason, it’s important for family members to have an open and honest discussion early in the disease course about the person’s treatment goals. The hospice benefit is comprehensive and is intended to support patients and their families, but in 2014 over 60% of patients accessing the benefit were on service for less than 30 days, indicating how critical it is to discuss this topic as soon as possible when a loved one has a life-limiting illness.

Many families who worry about the cost of hospice care would be surprised to know that hospice is covered 100% by Medicare and Medicaid. Cornerstone Hospice works with all private insurances and is committed to the care of all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Patients can sign on and off of the Medicare hospice benefit as often as they feel is necessary to match any modifications they might have with their personal treatment goals. There is no limit to the amount of time a person can receive hospice services or a penalty for multiple enrollments. If you have an HMO or private insurance, call your provider or review your plan to get additional details about the hospice benefits it offers.

No family ever imagines a loved one will need hospice care, but inevitably we will all likely experience this situation. Should that time arise, Hospice’s sole mission is to support patients and families during this difficult time, with an approach to care that focus on dignity and compassion.