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Knowing When to Call Hospice Can Be a Game-Changer

It’s sometimes easier to define what hospice is not rather than trying to absorb all the things it is – especially in assessing when one should reach out.

“A common misconception is that we’re available only at the eleventh hour, or just days or weeks before someone passes,” says Dana Shelton-Clark, an admissions social worker with Emmanuel Hospice. “But hospice care is really holistic support for anyone who’s been given a physician’s prognosis of six or fewer months to live. And that’s only a requirement for admission.

“There’s no ticking clock, no time limit for the amount of time the hospice benefit can be used as long as someone remains eligible.”

What Shelton-Clark and her colleagues too often hear from patients and their caregivers is this: We wish we would have called sooner.

Dealing with an approaching death can be understandably trying, to say the least. At Emmanuel Hospice, says Shelton-Clark, a team approach is instituted to rally around the loved one and care for them in mind, body and spirit. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, either. Instead, care and options are customized to consider each individual’s wants and needs.

“We often get comments such as ‘I didn’t know this is what hospice is’ and ‘I didn’t know hospice could provide this,’” she explains. “All it really takes is a phone call to set up a meeting that will provide a clear and accurate window into all the services hospice offers.”

Shelton-Clark notes some people put off calling hospice because they’re being counseled by medical personnel still fighting for a cure.

“We understand that,” she says, “because most doctors are trained in an approach to do all they can to ‘fix’ the problem. But cures are not always possible, and hospice is a treatment option that should be offered and considered.

“Our focus is to instead provide interventions that relieve symptoms and allow patients to focus on how they really want to live, so that they have as many good days and months as possible.”

Shelton-Clark emphasizes hospice will come to wherever it is the loved one calls home – their own house, or a relative’s, or an assisted living facility or memory care unit. During a first discussion, there’s never any obligation to sign on or take next steps. That’s up to the individual and their caregivers. But sometimes, just that initial meeting is enough to help people understand their options going forward.

Some people actually improve during hospice care, in some cases enough to no longer require services. But they’re free to return if they decline to a point where they again meet eligibility standards; there are never any deadlines imposed.

Shelton-Clark acknowledges that the role of Emmanuel Hospice is as much to provide education as it is to provide care – doing all it can to acquaint people with what hospice is and why it’s better to reach out earlier than later.

“There are so many ways for us to assist,” she says, “especially for that person who’s been in and out of the hospital and is ready for that revolving door to finally stop. That’s the time to give us a call and learn more.

“Our compassionate and experienced team is ready to answer any questions you may have.”

For more information, visit or call 616.719.0919.