Imagine sitting at your doctor’s office or lying in your hospital bed and learning you had less than six months left to live. What do you do? Call someone you love? Take that “bucket list” trip? Ask for a second opinion? Or wait for the inevitable?
I am not even sure what I would do. However, these are familiar words to the terminally ill and for those who know what hospice is, their next call is to us.
Hospice is so much more than end-of-life care. It is a journey of peace, comfort, love and family. Hospice doesn’t just care for the patient, but also for the entire family – physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally assisting the patient to comfortable, more peaceful journey to the end of life in as gentle a manner possible, and staying close to the family in the aftermath of loss.
The word hospice is derived from the Latin word hospitum meaning hospitality or place of rest and protection for the ill and weary. During the 60’s, Dr. Cicely Saunders began the first hospice program in England, which encompassed homecare and an in-patient facility for the seriously infirmed. The first hospice in the United States was founded in 1974, just 10 years prior to the birth of hospice in Brevard County in 1984.
WHAT HOSPICE PROVIDES
A patient’s first experience with hospice may be overwhelming. Hospice provides, typically, care from a registered nurse or certified nursing assistant (CNA), in addition to a social worker, chaplain, hospice physician, if the patient wishes, a volunteer as well.
With hospice, the patient is at the center of a care wheel with each discipline having an equal part in that care plan. Depending on the needs of the patient, these visits can range from once per month for social workers and chaplains and two to three times per week for a registered nurse or CNA. Each care plan is customized to the patient because every hospice journey is different.
A little-known component of the hospice plan is the care that follows after the patient passes: an expert team of bereavement coordinators follows the family for 13 months after the death of a loved one, checking in with notes of support and love, and helping plan an annual Celebration of Life, among other things. It is their job to be the shoulder for hospice families to lean on. Hospice shouldn’t stop when the patient passes, because life must continue for those left behind.
HOW HOSPICE IS FUNDED
Hospice is funded through a variety of means including Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran’s Administration, which pay 100% of hospice costs including durable medical equipment, supplies, medications pertaining to the hospice diagnosis and the care provided by highly trained hospice staff. Private insurance is also accepted. Often, those without the ability to pay are offered hospice service as well. We believe that every patient, regardless of ability to pay, should not be denied a comfortable, dignified, peaceful ending to life.
For families of a loved one on hospice, the last thing that needs to cause stress is wondering how all this will be paid for. It is such a relief for the family when they realize they can focus on what time is left rather than where the money will come from.
In order to qualify for hospice, a hospice medical director will certify the patient has a terminal illness and probably has less than six months left to live. That does not necessarily mean that the patient will die in that timeframe, but should the disease follow its normal course, it is assumed the patient has less than six months to live.
While hospice is end-of-life for all of our patients, it is the beginning of some amazing new opportunities for others. For cancer patients, after months or even years of harsh chemotherapy treatments or tiresome radiation, hospice can offer pain relief while also providing precious moments of clarity with loved ones. Often, estranged families are reunited and find closure after years of being apart. We even have the ability to assist with final wishes from toes in the sand to planning theme park trips.
To hear the words “you have less than six months to live” is undeniably frightening and overwhelming. End-of-life care and compassion is our job, but hospice care providers also offer education and understanding to those who need it most at a very vulnerable time.
Contacting hospice does not mean you have chosen hospice, it means you are electing to learn more about the available options.
Remember that just as life is a gift, so too is hospice. For me and my team and other hospice providers, we realize it is your journey, but we are honored you have chosen us to walk beside you through it.