Hospice, which now exists in every state, provides home care and support for terminally ill patients. Considered to be a model for quality compassionate care at the end of life, hospice involves a team approach to care that helps patients remain comfortable and independent for as long as possible. At the heart of hospice care is the idea that individuals have a right to die pain-free and with dignity. Hospice changes the focus of care from curing to caring, and from treatment to pain and symptom management.
Although many people associate hospice with sorrow, the hospice experience often includes times of joy, heart-warming closeness and peace.
To be accepted into a hospice program, you need a doctor's referral and a prognosis of six months or less to live. You do not have to wait for your doctor to suggest hospice care. You may ask for a referral. The costs are covered by Medicare nationwide and by most Medicaid and private insurance policies.
Family members are usually the primary caregivers for dying patients, living in the household and doing most of the daily chores. Volunteers also play an important role in supporting families, lending a listening ear and helping with chores, grocery shopping, and other tasks.
Hospice services include nursing care, drugs for symptom management, homemaker services, chaplain services, physical therapy and counseling. Luxuries such as back rubs, foot massages, favorite foods or music are offered as well. Hospice care includes a number of services for the patient's family and home caregivers as well.
Members of the hospice staff make regular visits to assess the patient and provide care. If no caregiver is available at home, the hospice team can help arrange for another comfortable setting in a freestanding hospice facility, hospital or nursing home.
Throughout the period of care, members of the hospice team serve as important sources of support and information regarding pain and symptom management as well as end-of-life issues.
Hospice care is appropriate once patients have decided that they no longer want to spend their time seeking aggressive curative care, but want to focus on achieving the best quality of life in the time that they have left.
Unfortunately, many families wait until the last minute when death is very near to take advantage of hospice care and are not able to benefit from the array of services offered.
It is best to get in touch with hospice early on, well before a crisis exists. Since it may take time to develop a good pain and symptom management program, this helps to ensure that a good support network will be in place once the need arises and maximizes the effectiveness of the hospice professionals.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
For additional information and a list of hospices in the area, please contact:
Cancer Resource Center
1600 Divisadero St., First Floor, Room B-101
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885-3693
You may also wish to read about:
Spiritual Care Services
Phone: (415) 353-1941