What Is Hospice?

Basic information about hospice care.

By Jack D. Gordon

Hospice is a concept of caring that provides comfort and support for those who are terminally ill with a life expectation of six months or less

People who choose hospice are not “giving up.” Hospice neither hastens death, nor prolongs life. When a person’s terminal illness is not responding to curative treatment, hospice care is a choice that addresses all the symptoms of a disease with a special emphasis on controlling pain and discomfort. Hospice allows the patient and family to focus on the emotional and spiritual aspects of care, so that medical concerns do not dominate the entire focus of dying.

More than 3,000 hospice services have opened their doors since the launch of the first U.S. hospice program nearly 30 years ago. In 1999, 700,000 people in the U.S. opted for hospice. The reasons for choosing hospice vary, but those named by patients and their families generally identify include:

  • Hospice aggressively focuses on symptom management, comfort, dignity, and quality of life. The wishes of the patient and his or her family are always a priority and they play an integral role in the development and administration of the care plan. A hospice care team can consist of physicians, nurses, health aides, social workers, spiritual caregivers, counselors, therapists, and volunteers from the community—all of whom are specially trained to provide care and support for the patient and family.
  • Hospice’s ability to care for patients in their own home, so that they may spend their last days in a loving and familiar environment. More than 80 percent of hospice care in the U.S. takes place in the home. Many hospices also offer in-house facilities; care is also available to nursing home residents.
  • Hospice’s affordability. Data shows that hospice care is often one-third less costly than care in a hospital. Hospice care is covered by Medicare, most private insurance plans, and HMOs. In 42 states, it is also available for Medicaid recipients.
  • Hospice’s bereavement resources, such as support groups, counseling, and workshops are an integral part of hospice care. These services are available to the family and loved ones for at least one year after the patient’s death.
    For more information about hospice and other available resources, contact the Hospice Foundation of America at 1-800-854-3402 or visit our Web site at www.hospicefoundation.org.

Jack D. Gordon is the chairman and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America. From 1972–1992, he served in the Florida State Senate where he introduced the country’s first hospice legislation.

Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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