Understanding Options: Hospice

Chris and I always thought we knew the value of hospice services for those who are terminally ill, but when my mother needed these services, we learned so much more about how hospice could help.

Hospice is a service that is covered by Medicare funds and is intended for those whose life expectancy is six months or less, but sometimes people outlive these expectations for months or even years. The hospice benefit is initially administered for two consecutive 90-day periods, and then can be extended for unlimited 60-day segments. A family using these services should do their homework and get recommendations on the best hospice organizations. A family can change agencies only once during use of Medicare’s hospice benefit.

Hospice services may include hospice doctor, a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse, certified nurse assistants, home care aides, homemakers, a social worker, and even chaplain services. Some locations have hospice houses where the terminally ill can live if their home or family is not appropriate for continued care.

My mother’s hospice team provided exceptional care. They coordinated the delivery of a hospital bed, wheelchair, and other necessary equipment before my mother’s return home after her hospital stay. The hospital’s staff prescribed hospice services, and my brother requested a local hospice organization. The care my mother received and the support my brother and I had during those seven weeks was beyond anything I could have imagined. Hospice handled my mother’s prescriptions, her baths, her vital signs and other health monitoring. They answered questions, addressed my concerns, and kept me informed as her decline progressed. I honestly felt that I had a great care team in place.

The mistake most families make regarding hospice care is not enrolling soon enough. Some people are uncomfortable talking about hospice with their aging parent because it seems they are giving up too early. As they watch their loved one become increasingly dependent on others as their need for care increases, the Family Caregiver may become overwhelmed with the growing burden of providing care. It takes a little time to put a hospice care plan in place. Most organizations that provide hospice services can begin service within 24-48 hours of initial contact, but in many situations, the patient only lives hours or days once care begins. In my mother’s case, we began hospice services upon her discharge from the hospital. For the next seven weeks, we had amazingly consistent staffing with the RN, the CNA, the Social Worker and the Chaplain. These people got to know my mother quite well, and she looked forward to their visits. They also got to know my brother and me, and we felt that they understood our situation and my mother’s wishes. This familiarity made her last days so much more comfortable for everyone involved.

Hospice care is an invaluable resource for end-of-life care and the Family Caregiver who is caring for someone who is terminally ill. Don’t be afraid consider hospice care if you think your loved one may have less than a year to live. You aren’t giving up, but you are providing the best possible care for your loved one.

Here’s the Medicare link for more details on hospice services. We hope it helps you on this journey. https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/part-a/how-hospice-works.html

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