February Note From the President and CEO: The Gift of Hospice Care
Society can learn from President Carter.
As I write this, the nation has just received the news that President Jimmy Carter is nearing the end of his life. His choice to forgo curative treatments and receive hospice care at home sets an invaluable example for the countless Americans who are unfamiliar with what hospice care is and why it is such a precious gift as we approach death.
Hospice care is a beautiful and priceless benefit. Quite literally! It is a unique type of healthcare that is available to anyone with Medicare or Medicaid (and many private insurances) who is terminally ill and has decided to stop undergoing medical treatment for their terminal disease. Hospice is about easing the end-of-life transition — for both the dying person and their loved ones.
Hospice uses an interdisciplinary team-based approach to providing comfort care. The care team generally includes a hospice physician, hospice nurses, a social worker, certified home health aides, spiritual support counselor(s), family support volunteers and grief counselors.
Hospice care is most often provided in the patient’s home, wherever that may be (e.g., house, apartment, nursing home, assisted living facility; I have even heard about hospice being offered to a houseless person under the bridge that was his home!). In some areas, there are also inpatient hospice facilities and/or hospitals with a number of beds dedicated to hospice care.
The hospice team also provides the medical equipment the dying person needs, such as a hospital bed, oxygen tank, etc. And they provide pain relief as well as physical and psychic comfort. They extend compassionate support and grief counseling not only to the person who is dying but also to the people around them.
Just as all hospitals are not the same, all hospice programs are not the same. Ask around. Neighbors and friends are a great source of information about which hospices in your community provide the best care. In addition, Compassion & Choices’ fact sheet How to Interview a Hospice walks you step-by-step through the process of finding the right hospice for you.
In the meantime, I thank President Carter for using his stature and voice to raise awareness about the benefit and value of hospice care. Let us hope that his final days, weeks or months are filled with meaningful memories that provide closure and comfort to him and his loved ones.