What is Hospice?

  • Hospice is a special concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families when a life-limiting illness no longer responds to cure-oriented treatments.
  • Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death.
  • Hospice staff and volunteers offer a specialized knowledge of medical care, including pain management.
  • The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient's last days by offering comfort and dignity.
  • Hospice care is provided by a team-oriented group of specially trained professionals, volunteers and family members.
  • Hospice addresses all symptoms of a disease, with a special emphasis on controlling a patient's pain and discomfort.
  • Hospice deals with the emotional, social and spiritual impact of the disease on the patient and the patient's family and friends.
  • Hospice offers a variety of bereavement and counseling services to families before and after a patient's death.

History
The word "hospice" stems from the Latin word "hospitium" meaning guesthouse. It was originally used to describe a place of shelter for weary and sick travelers returning from religious pilgrimages. During the 1960's, Dr. Cicely Saunders, a British physician began the modern hospice movement by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice near London. St. Christopher's organized a team approach to professional caregiving, and was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to compassionately care for the dying. The first hospice in the United States was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974.

There are more than 4,100 hospice programs in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam. The majority of hospice programs are Medicare-certified. In 2008, over 1.45 million individuals in the United States received hospice care*.

Hospice is not a place but a concept of care. Eighty percent of hospice care is provided in the patient's home, family member's home and in nursing homes. Inpatient hospice facilities are sometimes available to assist with caregiving.

What is Covered Under Hospice Care?
 
If a person has a terminal illness or disease that is no longer responding to aggressive care, they are eligible for hospice care if two physicians can certify to their condition and prognosis. One of these may be the hospice physician. The physicians will certify that if the disease were to run its normal course, the patient may be expected to die within six months.
 
This does not mean that the person will definitely die within six months. The course of decline in a patient with a serious illness varies from disease to disease, and even from person to person within the same disease. It simply means that for the foreseeable future, if the illness continues as it usually does, the patient may be expected to die.
 
What may a patient and his/her family expect to receive in hospice services?
 
Hospice covers all services, medications and equipment related to the terminal illness. These include:

  • Physician services
  • Nursing services
  • Home health aides
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Medications for pain relief and symptom management
  • Dietary counseling
  • Continuous care during crisis periods
  • Trained volunteers
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Respite care for the family
  • Social work services
  • Psychological and spiritual counseling for the individual
  • Bereavement services for the family for a year after death
 
 

* Based on a national survey conducted by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.