The word hospice has a bad reputation. People often think of it as the end of medical treatment for those without hope, according to Susan Lueckenhoff, LCSW. She is a hospice support services manager for the Good Samaritan Society.
“Having worked in hospice for more than 30 years, I am still amazed at how it is perceived so erroneously by so many. It’s not only the general population, but also those in the medical community,” she said.
Myths and misconceptions
- Hospice means you are at “death’s door”
- No other treatment will take place
- Hospice is a place
- Hospice means giving up hope
- It ends when the patient dies
- Hospice is time limited
Learn more: What is hospice?
The facts are far more uplifting
“Choosing hospice means choosing palliative care over aggressive care. Hospice patients want their last days to be comfortable, in the setting of their choice,” Lueckenhoff said.
“Palliative care is focused on providing comfort and relief from the symptoms of an illness or disease, as opposed to curative care, which tries to reverse or halt the progression of a disease. Palliative care can be given throughout the course of an illness.”
Patients on hospice are nearing death, with an expectation of six months or fewer to live.
“But this is not a definitive prediction, simply an estimate,” she said. “Most patients have either exhausted curative options, are tired of aggressive procedures, or have failed to thrive despite all efforts.”
Five things to understand about hospice
Hospice caregivers view patients as physical, emotional and spiritual beings. Hospice’s passive treatment avoids tubes, diagnostics, chemotherapy and surgical procedures. But it still provides skilled care. The program provides palliative care using medications, equipment, wound care and exceptional nursing. Hospice care always includes support for emotional and spiritual needs.
This could be the patient’s own home, a family member’s home, an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Caregivers support whatever setting the patient chooses. Hospice inpatient units provide short-term stays in a more clinical setting.
A focus on hope
Hospice may redefine what hope means. Loved ones and friends hope that hospice helps a patient enjoy more pain-free time. Patients and loved ones get care, support, preparation and a sense of peace. And, hospice provides the hope that a patient can be in a homelike environment that isn’t full of clinical equipment.
Support for the whole family
Hospice supports and provides resources, a listening ear, counseling, problem-solving and love for the patient’s family and friends. Bereavement services start on the day of admission and continue for a year or more beyond death. Caregivers and family use individual counseling or support groups to help cope with their grief.
Medicare and Medicaid benefit
The Medicare and Medicaid hospice benefit is based on medical criteria. Depending on the situation, benefits extend beyond the six-month expectation and after discharge.
“The hospice door never closes and is not a one-time offer,” Lueckenhoff said. Most private insurance policies have a hospice benefit as well.
‘The best answer’
“Hospice is the best answer for those in the final stage of a life-limiting disease,” Lueckenhoff said. It brings care to where patients are. Despite its bad reputation, hospice may also eliminate hospitalization while providing emotional and spiritual support.
Hospice represents and defines comfort care. Lueckenhoff encourages patients and families to embrace and discuss hospice and its benefits.