Hospice Care: Understanding The “Who”

It’s not unusual to unearth misconceptions about hospice when discussing it as a healthcare option.

One of the prime misconceptions has to do with exactly who is eligible.

Basically, it’s anyone who’s been diagnosed by a qualified physician with a terminal illness and has six months to live or less.

As with virtually anything, there are a few asterisks to consider, but patient access specialists like Lindsey Cosgrove of Emmanuel Hospice emphasize that when in doubt, simply make a phone call to schedule a meeting to gather information specific to your medical situation.

“Too many people have this notion that hospice is mainly for the 98-year-old grandma or grandpa who has a day or a few days to live,” Cosgrove says. “That’s why we’re so eager to provide education, whether it be for a patient or that patient’s family or caregiver.”

Armed with information makes it easier for someone contemplating hospice to zero in on whether it’s something they should choose sooner or later, she says.

Cosgrove and others at Emmanuel – especially clinical teams comprised of nurses, social workers, spiritual caregivers and various therapists – can cite too many times when a person was frightened or misinformed and waited until the last minute to sign on for care.

“The number of people who tell us they wish they would have called us sooner?” Cosgrove poses.

“A lot.”

What too many fail to realize are the ways in which hospice can intervene weeks or months before a person dies. Sometimes, they’re swayed by physicians who are intent on curing their malady when in fact the illness is destined to result in the person’s death.

Still others are fearful that hospice will take away all their medications and not manage their symptoms. “That’s just not true,” says Cosgrove, explaining how rather than focusing on cures, hospice promotes palliative care, which leans on strategies to improve comfort and quality of life while relieving symptoms.

Those strategies might involve anything from a supervised drug regimen to visits from skilled nurses, spiritual advisors and aides – and treatments from therapists specializing in aromatherapy, music, massage and much more.

Another misconception is that hospice is available only to those in a hospital setting. Again, untrue, says Cosgrove, noting that organizations like Emmanuel Hospice will meet you virtually anywhere you live – in your house, apartment, condo, retirement community and more.

Another thing to consider is that Medicare and most commercial insurances cover 100% of virtually everything provided by hospice – visits, medicine, aides, counseling and other services. Again, there are some limitations, but one call to Emmanuel will help you discover where you stand. “If you’re unsure about how you qualify, we’re ready to assist,” Cosgrove says.

Cosgrove emphasizes that it all begins with that conversation: “We deal with a fair number of people who aren’t even sick, but just want to have as much information in hand ahead of time. It’s all about planning for the future, and learning in the moment so that when the time comes, you have clarity.”

Nurturing the Spirit to Find Peace and Purpose at the End of Life

Peace, purpose and meaning are terms that can’t always be easily illustrated or explained.

But it’s what the Rev. Nathaniel Johnson brings to the people he sees as one of eight spiritual caregivers employed by Emmanuel Hospice.

“My job is to help remind folks of what brings meaning, hope and purpose to their lives,” he says. “Many times when people are faced with a physical health crisis, such as a terminal prognosis, their world gets recalibrated, and you look for things that you can hang onto in the midst of the uncertainty.

“I connect people with those things that help them find a foothold in this very uncertain process. For some, it’s a faith connection. For others, it might be connecting through nature – via gardening or photography or art or anything that brings beauty into their life.

“For some, it’s family – looking into the faces of their children or grandchildren and being reminded of their legacy, how it continues on long after they’re gone physically.”

In any case, he emphasizes: “It expands into something so much broader than one’s religious identity. That’s certainly a component, but it’s also about who am I, what matters to me, what gives me meaning and purpose and hope.”

Johnson’s perspective has been shaped over a lifetime of serving the spiritual needs of others. He was born and raised in Japan, one of four children born to missionaries. He has more than 30 years of experience, having served two Methodist churches in West Michigan and as a chaplain at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

He has developed into a champion for hospice care, which he points out “is a vital aspect of care … completely covered by Medicare,” but for which too many people wait too long to sign up for.

Johnson emphasizes hospice is about helping people decide how they want to live out the rest of their lives. In acknowledging the spiritual component Emmanuel Hospice focuses on as part of its caregiving, Johnson explains.

10 Signs It Might Be Time for Hospice Care

10 Signs It Might Be Time for Hospice Care

Making the decision to enter end-of-life care can be a difficult one. According to a national survey, only 32 percent of people have had the conversation with their family — though almost all feel it’s an important one to have. While every individual case is different, there are some signs that indicate it might be time for your loved one to enter hospice care.


How will you know when it’s time for hospice for your loved one? 


1) A doctor has given your loved one a prognosis of six months or less.

Hospice is holistic care and support typically reserved for someone with a life-ending condition who has six or fewer months to live, as determined by a licensed physician. 


2) They’re experiencing a dramatic weight loss or change in appetite.

An extremely light appetite and minimal thirst could be a sign of the body beginning to shut down. If you notice dramatic changes in your loved one’s eating and drinking habits — leading to big changes in weight and body composition — a call to hospice could help.


3) You’re noticing decreased alertness, withdrawal and consistent confusion.

For some, nearing the end of life causes them to withdraw from everyday situations, appear unaware of their surroundings or confused about where they are and who they’re with. It might seem like your loved one is tuning out. While these signs can be alarming, they are common.


4) Your loved one is sleeping longer and more frequently.

Near the end of life, longer and more frequent sleeping is normal. The body begins to slow down and needs more chances to recharge. 


5) They are no longer able to perform everyday tasks.

A decline in the ability to perform daily tasks including eating, getting dressed, walking or using the bathroom are signs that it might be time for hospice.


6) You’ve seen a sudden, rapid mental decline.

Similarly to consistent confusion, a rapid decline in mental capacity can mean care is needed. Things to be on the lookout for are personality changes, hallucinations, depression and loss of motivation.


7) You’ve seen a sudden, rapid physical decline.

Physical decline is typical in older age, but there is a difference between normal decline and rapid decline. Sometimes frequent falls that cause larger, longer-lasting bruises are a sign of rapid decline. Difficulty breathing and more consistent pain are also possible symptoms.


8) Pain is becoming chronic and unmanageable.

Not all pain is indicative of the need for hospice care. However, if you’re monitoring pain and it is progressively worsening and current medications are no longer effective, it may be time to contact hospice.


9) You’re making frequent emergency room visits or hospital trips.

Hospice could be the next step if the emergency room and hospital are becoming like a second home. When you find yourself there often, for increasingly longer visits or worsening reasons, it’s time to start considering a plan for hospice care.


10) Previous treatments are beginning to become ineffective.

Hospice focuses on caring for — not curing — patients.


Does my loved one need palliative care or hospice care?

If treatment is still a possibility, palliative care might be a better choice for your loved one. Palliative care provides treatment for patients facing serious and life-threatening illnesses. But unlike hospice care, palliative care can be accessed at any point during an illness and alongside curative treatment.


Does hospice hasten the dying process?

Hospice does not hasten the dying process. In fact, studies show hospice care can actually increase life expectancy by managing symptoms and providing holistic support.


Call Emmanuel Hospice When

If, alongside doctors and caregivers, you and your loved one have decided to discontinue treatment and shift the day-to-day focus from a cure to comfort, it is time for hospice. Hospice is not about giving up, it focuses neither on prolonging nor ending life, but instead on delivering end-of-life care, maximizing comfort and reducing pain. It’s about deciding how you want to live in the moments you have left.


People sometimes wait too long before calling hospice in. “We hear that a lot,” says Layna Miron, Hospice Aide Team Lead. “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, Miron says “sooner is usually better than later” to initiate contact.


At Emmanuel Hospice, it is our calling to make every moment meaningful — for you and your family. Our team of doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice aides, spiritual caregivers, grief support specialists and volunteers work together, rallying around individual needs to care for the whole person — mind, body and spirit.

How Much Does Hospice Care Cost?

How Much Does Hospice Care Cost?

One of the first questions we receive from families who are in need of our services is, “How much will hospice care cost?” There is usually no direct cost to patients and their loved ones at Emmanuel Hospice, though that is not always the case for every hospice provider.


We understand that end-of-life care is difficult to talk about, which is why we are committed to making it easier for all involved. We can’t stop death, but we can help you have a plan to make the most of every moment — without straining your financial situation.


What Is the Average Cost of Hospice Care?

It is hard to place a specific dollar amount on hospice care. The cost truly depends on the provider, your location and the type of care offered by the institution you’ve chosen to provide that care. It is also important to note that not every hospice care provider is the same. Each comes with its own range of therapies, services and access to additional offerings.


Quality hospice care goes beyond what Medicare, Medicaid and private insurances will cover. At Emmanuel Hospice, we invest over $200,000 annually to make complementary therapies and services available to all of our patients.


Additionally, end-of-life care costs can change dramatically when taking into account where care is performed and whether hospital services are needed.


Who Pays for Hospice?

Often, people wonder how they’ll pay for hospice care. Hospice is a benefit that is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance carriers. There is usually no direct cost to patients and their loved ones for medications, equipment, supplies or even the team of experts specialized in comforting and caring for those with a life-limiting illness.


However, some costs may be incurred by families for hospital services or if inpatient care in a long-term care facility is necessary.

What if I Need Help Covering the Cost of Hospice?

If you are in need of hospice care but do not have insurance there may be out of pocket costs associated with some necessary services. As an organization committed to providing the highest quality of care — even when that care doesn’t come from us — Emmanuel Hospice will connect patients and families with community resources that will help. These resources are available to you free of charge.


What Can I Expect When Choosing Hospice Care From Emmanuel Hospice?

Whether this is your first time seeking care for a loved one or you’re already familiar with Emmanuel Hospice, we’re here to answer your questions and offer support.


Hospice care happens wherever your loved one calls home, whether in an assisted living facility, skilled nursing facility or a family home, our team will come to you. We’ll not only walk alongside you as a care plan is developed, we’ll help talk you through tough subjects like who pays for hospice care.

We’re available 24/7 to provide answers. Call 616.719.0919 and our compassionate team will begin walking this journey by your side.

The Role of a Hospice Spiritual Caregiver

At Emmanuel Hospice, our goal is to enhance each patient’s life with a combination of expert medical care, spiritual counseling and a variety of complementary services and therapies to engage the senses and create unique, joyful memories. One way we address the spiritual needs of our patients and their families is through a spiritual caregiver.

What Does a Hospice Spiritual Caregiver Do?

A spiritual caregiver tends to the patient’s and family’s spiritual or religious needs while in end-of-life care. Our team supports patients as they cope with illness, pain, grief and change. They also support friends and family affected by the changes or passing of their loved one.

Emmanuel Hospice spiritual caregivers use skills like compassion, empathy and a servant’s heart to address questions and concerns. And because we are an interfaith organization, this means all beliefs are celebrated.

Whether searching for meaning and purpose, love, belonging, peace, comfort or gratitude, you’ll find expert, compassionate care here.

Who Are Emmanuel Hospice’s Spiritual Caregivers?

Our organization is blessed with many spiritual caregivers focused on providing our patients with the faith-based support they need. One of our colleagues, Pastor Vern Bareman, was recently recognized by West Michigan Christian News for the role he plays.

Pastor Bareman ministers mostly in a spiritual way, embracing the special role he provides in the lives of patients and families. His approach is patient-centered, participating closely with the rest of the care team to create a meaningful plan for patients nearing their end of life. While not all are religious, Pastor Bareman recognizes that there is always something that provides meaning. His hope is that a positive reflection on life will help bring peace and comfort.

See all Emmanuel Hospice Spiritual Caregivers here.