Clearing Up the Myths of Hospice Care | Opinion
As we leave November, which is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, it’s an ideal time to provide our community with a clearer understanding of hospice care and correct many of the myths of this valuable service aimed at easing the final months of a family member or loved one who’s facing life’s toughest challenge.
When people think of hospice care, they often think of a place outside the home, a medical facility like a hospital where patients are cared for around the clock. The reality is, the goal of hospice care is to allow patients to stay in their homes, surrounded by family and loved ones so they can cherish their final weeks and months with those who are most important to them. The vast majority of hospice patients, 98.2%, are actually cared for at home, with in-home nurses, aides, chaplains, social workers and volunteers making scheduled visits and tending to the needs not just of the patient, but their family and friends, who are provided counseling services to help manage and work through the incredibly tough challenge of coping with a loved one who is terminal.
In the hospice field, we talk about “meeting you where you are,” whether that’s a physical place like a home, or even meeting the spiritual and psychological needs of patients through chaplains and counseling staff. We treat our patients holistically, working through the emotional challenges as well as the physical ones. Of course, there are some patients with needs that require care in a full-time medical facility, but this is often necessary only for the most challenging of cases.
Another myth is that hospice care is only intended for patients’ final hours or days. By definition, hospice care is for any patient who’s identified as terminal within the next six months. Unfortunately, many families wait until the last minute to request hospice care, when their loved one could have been receiving support for many months. Many families want to express meaningful feelings and to say goodbye when the time comes but may not know how to. Reaching out earlier than those last few days can help your family leave a legacy of lasting memories that provide closure and comfort.
Statistics show that early engagement with a hospice provider also results in fewer hospitalizations, meaning patients can remain in their homes and avoid symptoms that would otherwise require care in a full-time facility. Further, in many cases, hospice care patients can actually see their symptoms improve, leaving them more comfortable, in less pain and more able to fully enjoy their time with loved ones.
Some families may worry that the cost of hospice care would be a strain on their budgets, but the cost of hospice care is not a concern in nearly all cases, as costs are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. Even where there are shortfalls, there are often ways to make up the difference. For example, at Trustbridge, where I serve as chief operating officer, we can assure patients that the cost of hospice is never a factor because of the support of our foundation. Any services not covered by insurance can be funded through the generous donors who support our mission. These services include grief counseling, music therapy, pet therapy and veterans programs. In addition, as a nonprofit, we don’t have responsibilities to shareholders or corporate profit margins, meaning a larger percentage of that Medicare benefit goes directly to the care of our patients, and not to a corporation’s bottom line.
Naturally, deciding to reach out to a hospice care provider means understanding and recognizing that your loved will only be with you for a limited time, but hospice care provides the ideal opportunity for you to make the most of that remaining time your loved one.
Tarrah Lowry, of West Palm Beach, is the chief operating officer of Trustbridge.