Hospice Care: 5 Things Every Family Should Know

November is National Home CareHospice and Palliative Care Month, a time to celebrate our clinicians, but also a time to educate our community about these important services.

This week we are focusing on hospice care and what every family should know to help prepare for future health care needs.

Hospice services are available to provide improved quality of life for those who have a life limiting illness. However, individuals and family caregivers often wait too long to seek this specialized help.  Because hospice is for those with a terminal illness, hospice focuses on caring, not curing, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. While hospice care usually takes place in the patient’s home, it can be provided in hospice centers, hospitals and nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.

If you or a loved one is considering hospice care, here are some important things you should know:

Know when to begin

Hospice is specialized care for those with a terminal illness, who are expected to pass away within six months. While family members or health care workers can refer patients for hospice, Medicare requires verification of diagnosis from a primary care physician or a hospice physician. Some individuals live longer than expected. When this occurs, hospice care can continue. If a patient recovers, hospice care will end because it is no longer needed.

Research shows that patients often live longer on hospice, with better quality of life, than patients with similar diagnoses who do not have hospice care.  According to Kelly Doherty, RN-C, MSN, ARNP-BC, ACHPN, Director of Hospice and Palliative Care at Cornerstone VNA, “Often families tell us they wish they had been referred to hospice sooner and that they thought hospice was only for the last few weeks or days of care.”

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found patients and family members who received hospice care had a better end-of-life experience than those who did not receive similar care.  J. Donald Schumacher, former president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said in a release on the study that professional hospice and palliative caregivers have been advocating for patients and families to consider hospice long before a medical crisis emerges.  “Helping people understand that choosing hospice or palliative care earlier in the course of a serious, life-limiting illness is not ‘giving up’ but in most cases maximizes quality of life,” Schumacher said.

Understand the costs

In most cases, the cost of hospice care is covered as long as the provider is approved by Medicare. You can get hospice care for two 90-day benefit periods, followed by an unlimited number of 60-day benefit periods, according to information from Medicare. Medicaid and private insurance also typically offer hospice coverage.  Many nonprofit hospice care organizations, such as Cornerstone VNA, will care for those regardless of their ability to pay.

Maintain control

Good hospice care providers ensure patients feel in control at all times, and keep loved ones informed and involved. Part of maintaining control is knowing what options there are for hospice care, allowing patients to make decisions, and setting goals that are uniquely important to them. Sometimes goals may include being present for the birth of a grandchild, a special birthday or anniversary, or simply having symptoms managed so that visits from family and friends can be enjoyed.

Take a team approach

At Cornerstone VNA, hospice care is provided by a team of specialists that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, licensed nursing assistants, social workers, spiritual care providers, volunteers and bereavement coordinators.  The hospice team develops a thoughtful care plan for symptom management as well as emotional and spiritual support tailored to a patient’s individual needs.  Cornerstone VNA is also a proud partner of the We Honor Veterans Program, which demonstrates our level of commitment to care for and honor those who have served our country.  In addition to the patient, team members work closely the family and/or primary caregiver and teaches them what to expect in the disease process so they are confident in the care of their loved one.

Care for the caregiver

Caring for someone who is terminally ill can be physically and mentally draining. To support caregivers during this journey, hospice volunteers are available to provide respite care, which allows caregivers to run a few errands or to take a break to recharge.  Once the patient passes, hospice provides bereavement support and grief counseling to help loved ones cope with the loss.

If you’d like to discuss hospice options, contact our expert staff — Cornerstone VNA is a nonprofit home, health and hospice agency currently serving Rockingham, Strafford, Belknap and Carroll Counties in New Hampshire and York County in Maine. For more than 106 years, Cornerstone VNA has been committed to bringing services to people of all ages so that families can stay together at home. To learn more about our award-winning programs and services, explore our website or call us at 800-691-1133.

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