By Rhea Go-Coloma
For many, hospice can be a frightening word often associated with end-of-life. When adopted earlier in the individual’s disease trajectory, however, it offers significant benefits for patients and families. Significantly, hospice healthcare specialists help to prioritize the family’s wishes and goals, creating a greater sense of ease and comfort.
While hospice is sometimes provided in healthcare facilities, it can also be provided in the comfort of a hospice facility or home, where the patient is more likely to feel at peace in familiar surroundings. Hospice care functions as a collaboration between the patient, family, hospice team and the physician to develop a care program that benefits everyone.
Keep in mind that hospice care costs are typically covered by Medicare through the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Medicaid (in most states), private insurance and the Veteran’s Health Administration.
Here’s a look at the five most important advantages of early election of hospice care for a loved one:
Family support – Early involvement of an interdisciplinary team of hospice specialists helps families on a number of fronts: teaching family members how to care for the person who is ill, providing support and counseling to family and friends, offering education about the care process. This level of support gives family members and caregivers the time and space they need to deal with personal affairs, financial and legal barriers, quality of life issues and accessing community resources.
The hospice team is also there to help families clarify patient wishes, establish physician and patient relationships and balance family dynamics during this stressful time. Bottom line: hospice provides a way for patients to have a diverse group of committed professionals advocating for their needs.
Care Goals — Hospice gives families the time they need to discuss goals of care, including the execution of an advance directive (AD), a legal document that spells out end-of-life (EOL) care ahead of time.
The hospice team, including doctors, nurses, therapists, healthcare aides, clergy and social workers, addresses every aspect of a patient’s illness, with emphasis on controlling and reducing pain and discomfort.
This team brings substantial experience that is invaluable to families trying to navigate end-of-life care. They provide symptom management and pain relief, increase quality of life and relieve patient suffering.
Up front, hospice is there to make it easier for families to establish care routines and secure much-needed durable medical equipment, medication management, medical supplies and complimentary therapies.
Caregiver Support — Hospice care eases family anxiety because hospice professionals are on-call 24-hours, allowing the family to have free time and periods of rest from caregiving. The hospice team offers patients what they need, from companionship to providing meals. They check on the patient when needed, when and if the caregiver is unable to do so.
This makes it possible for the patient to remain in the place of their choosing and decreases unnecessary trips to the hospital. Caregivers are then able to spend more quality time with the loved ones or take a break from the stresses of caregiving.
Family Counseling — Guidance and support are a crucial feature of hospice, helping families deal with the range of emotions that surround this difficult time, offering guidance from social workers and chaplains. Hospice also offers bereavement and grief counseling after a loved one has passed and helps with some of the after-death tasks that need to be completed.
Ultimately, choosing hospice care early makes end-of-life a calming and successful experience during a difficult time.
Dignity for the Patient — Hospice offers the patient a chance to die with dignity. Hospice patients are not hooked up to loud machines, their vitals are not constantly checked by medical personnel and they do not undergo invasive procedures to prolong life.
It’s about respecting patient wishes. By placing a loved one in hospice, families can focus on spending time with the patient and not dealing with the red tape and medical procedures associated with hospital care.
Hospice addresses physical, emotional and spiritual pain for patients and loved ones so that the patient and family can focus on what is most important – sharing time with one another in the most comfortable environment possible.
Rhea Go-Coloma, LMSW is Chief Administrative Officer for Hospice of the West.