Registered nurse Holly Thomas is a clinical manager for Memorial Home Hospice, which is based in Springfield and serves families across central Illinois. She explained that hospice is not a place, but rather a specialized and supportive care concept for those at the end of life.
“Hospice focuses on comfort rather than cure,” she said. “Hospice care includes support for families and caregivers. The goal of hospice care is to provide guidance and comfort through the end-of-life journey with not just support, but also an explanation of the dying process along the way. Hospice care is provided wherever home is.”
Thomas said that commonly held misconceptions about hospice care are that all medications are stopped, that hospice hastens death or that hospice is only about dying and usually occurs only for the time right before death.
“Comfort measures do not cause death to happen sooner,” Thomas said. “Medications are reviewed and recommendations made when entering hospice, and patients have a say in their medication options.”
People may be candidates for hospice if they have a terminal illness and a life expectancy of six months or less (determined by a physician), or if they have decided to stop active treatment, are no longer strong enough to continue treatment or have no further treatment options. Patients may also consider hospice if they no longer wish to have diagnostic testing performed, go to the emergency room, be admitted to the hospital or visit health care providers.
A typical hospice team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, bereavement services, home health aides, volunteers and, in some cases, various therapists and/or dietitians. A plan of care is developed with the patient and/or caregivers.
Visits are made to wherever home is for the patient – a nursing facility, assisted living, group home or the patient’s home. A patient’s own physician can remain involved in the care plan. Hospice provides 24-hour support and availability in order to help address physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs for patients and families/caregivers.
Medicare, Medicaid and private insurances cover hospice, although coverage may vary.
“It’s important for people to understand that hospice is about living and helping to make the end of life meaningful for the patient and loved ones,” Thomas said. “The benefits are wide-ranging and not just for immediately prior to a patient’s death.”