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Hospice 101 – An Overview of What You Need to Know

Published in The Grand Rapids Press on Feb. 24, 2019

You needn’t enroll in a class to educate yourself about hospice care. And you shouldn’t be shy about making inquiries on behalf of yourself or a loved one.

What follows are some basics to consider, along with a little light to shed on some common misconceptions:

  • Hospice is typically reserved for someone with a life-ending condition who has six or fewer months to live, as determined by a licensed physician. It focuses neither on prolonging nor ending life, but instead on delivering end-of-life care, maximizing comfort and reducing pain.
  • A typical hospice team will be comprised of a medical director, primary physician, nurses, social worker, aides, volunteers, pastoral caregiver and therapists specializing in a wide variety of complementary therapies.
  • Contrary to what you might have heard, hospice is not about giving up. Rather, it’s about providing a gift to your loved one so they’re able to enjoy their final days as pain-free as possible.
  • Hospice is often provided in the patient’s home, wherever that might be. It relies on a host of caregivers. And in addition to traditional medicine, organizations like Emmanuel Hospice offer massage, music, pet and essential oil therapies; as well as acupressure and more. “We basically do whatever is needed to make the patient comfortable,” says Christina Sanders, a team lead certified nursing assistant for Emmanuel.
  • Some hospices, such as Emmanuel, are non-profit. Some others are for-profit. You have a right to know, and should ask up front if that’s a concern. There is usually no direct cost to families for hospice care, as Medicaid and Medicare and most private insurers cover medicine, supplies, equipment and the team providing care.
  • Hospice providers typically go out of their way to share information. “We provide a lot of options,” says Sanders, noting that Emanuel offers packets that outline available resources. Websites are also a good place to learn more. The more you ask, the more you know.
  • “Palliative care” differs from hospice care in that it provides total care for patients with a progressive or advanced disease for whom the prognosis for survival is limited, but who may have longer than six months to live.
  • Hospice organizations treat not only the patient, but caregivers and families. And if they’re like Emmanuel, they continue to provide services even after death, including grief support and other types of support groups.
  • In some cases, patients in hospice become better to a point that they no longer need hospice and “graduate” from it.
  • People sometimes wait too long before calling hospice in. “We hear that a lot,” says Sanders. “It’s perceived as a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be, especially when people realize what a service we provide. We end up taking a lot of stress off the family.” When in doubt, Sanders says “sooner is usually better than later” to initiate contact.

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