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06 Jan, 2020

Talking about death makes people uncomfortable. The room grows uncomfortably quiet when the topic is broached with patients and their families. In my 20 years as a Medical Social Worker, and currently in my work with LB Hospice, I gained valuable insights that will help you the next time you’re face-to-face with death. 

 “He is not ready to give up,” is a natural response for many families facing death. “We are not ready for Hospice, she’s not dying yet.” Sadly, the median length of hospice care in the United States is just 18 days.  More than 35 percent of hospice patients die within a week of being admitted to hospice.  Medical providers agree that it takes a minimum of 3 months of Hospice care for patients to receive the full benefit of services. This includes time to create relationship with and confidence in the hospice team, financial benefit, symptom management and the ability to manage the illness before the patient and family is in crisis.  

With all the known benefits of Hospice care, why are people resistant to accepting it?  Coming to terms with our mortality is hard.  In my years in healthcare, I have found that most people aren’t afraid of dying as much as they are afraid of the process of dying. Dying holds a level of uncertainty.  Many are afraid of pain. Some are afraid of who will care for their loved ones or pets when they are gone.  It is a common fear to feel like we haven’t done enough.   Hospice professionals are trained to guide you through the final stages of life, addressing all of your concerns so that you may enjoy the remaining days of your life.     

Education is key.  Here is some general information that I hope helps explain some things about Hospice.  

What is it?

The definition I use most is that Hospice is medical care toward the goal of comfort and dignity for someone whose life is drawing to a close.   When a patient chooses Hospice care, the focus shifts to providing comfort instead of curing an illness.  Hospice isn’t about dying, it’s about living your best life during the time you have left. 

Hospice care could actually help you live longer.

Research shows that on average, Hospice recipients live longer and report a higher quality of life than those receiving standard care.   

Hospice can be provided in many different settings:   

Hospice see’s patients in many different settings – at their home, assisted living, nursing home and occasionally in the hospital.   You may ask what benefit Hospice can provide when the resident is already in a care setting.  I always tell people to view Hospice as a specialty service. For example, when you need treatment for cancer, your physician refers you to an oncologist. When you need care at end of life, you call hospice. Hospice does not replace the care you receive in the nursing home — they offer specialized patient care and extra support for staff, the resident and his or her family. 

Anyone is eligible for Hospice care

We care for patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. 

Hospice is paid for through the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Medicaid Hospice Benefit, and most private insurers. If a person does not have insurance coverage LB Hospice will work with the person and their family to ensure that the core services are provided, regardless of ability to pay.  

Care is multi-dimensional, caring for the whole person.  

This includes their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.    In addition to the nursing staff, your Hospice team includes: physician, therapy, medical Social work, dietary, pharmacy, Chaplaincy and volunteer services. 

Hospice also offer support for those left behind.   

Sometimes we get referrals because the hospital staff believe that the family needs ongoing support.   One benefit of Hospice is Bereavement services. Our Bereavement Social Worker is able to follow the designated family member for up to 13 months.  This can include home visits, telephone calls, referrals, newsletters and other resources.  

When should I call Hospice?  

Hospice may be appropriate if they have a life limiting illness with frequent visits to the ER or hospital admissions, a decline in their ability to perform daily tasks including eating, getting dressed, walking, or using the bathroom, an increase in falls, changes to their mental abilities or progressive weight loss.

Early referral is the best gift you can give your loved one.  

For more information or to request a speaker call LB Hospice at 218-998-1400.