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Hospice Care Overview

What is hospice care?

The word "hospice" means "a place of shelter." Today, the "place of shelter" is not so much a physical place. It is care that helps a person with a life-limiting (sometime called terminal) illness die with dignity and peace. Hospice care is end-of-life care given to support a person wherever they live. Comfort care is done to ease pain and other symptoms. The person and their family also get emotional and social support. The goal of hospice care is to help the person live to the fullest, even with a life-limiting illness.

To qualify for hospice care, a person usually has a life expectancy of less than 6 months.

Research has shown that hospice care at home helps the entire family. Family members are encouraged to take an active role in giving supportive care to their loved one. In doing so, the family can feel involved in their loved one's care and the person is surrounded by family and friends.

Woman lying in bed, woman sitting next to bed.

Where hospice care is done

Many people get hospice care at home. But hospice care can also take place in any setting, such as:

  • Hospital-based hospice. Most hospitals have a hospice program to give people with life-limiting illness access to support services and other healthcare providers. Some hospitals even have a designated hospice unit. Often these units give close medical and emotional support to people who need a lot of symptom management.

  • Long-term care facility. Many nursing homes and long-term care homes have hospice units with trained staff. These units are for people who don't have a caregiver at home. Or for people who may need medical services that can't be done at home.

  • Independent hospices. Some home care hospices are run as an independent business. Some also have an inpatient care facility. The inpatient facility can provide people hospice services when there is no caregiver at home, or if the person needs medical services that can't be done at home.

  • Assisted living facility. Many people live in personal care homes or assisted living apartments. When they need end-of-life care, hospice care services can be given in this home setting.

What services does hospice care provide?

Hospice services are like home healthcare services. Plus they also include:

  • Medical care. This includes a hospice doctor at part of your loved one's comfort care. Some people choose to keep their regular doctor as well and some people choose to turn their supportive care over to the healthcare provider (doctor or nurse practitioner) on the hospice team.

  • Visiting nurse care. This includes scheduled visits from a nurse to help with symptom control and provide education about the dying process.

  • 24-hour support. You'll have access to an on-call nurse and healthcare provider 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for questions and support. Sometimes visits are needed in the evenings or on weekends if your loved one's condition changes or you need support.

  • Spiritual and social services.

  • Volunteer services.

  • Family grief support. This is offered both before and after your loved one's death

It's important to check your loved one's insurance coverage for hospice benefits. Their healthcare provider can also help you learn about hospice coverage. If your loved one chooses hospice care, they're deciding to receive comfort care versus care to cure an illness. Your loved one's healthcare provider must certify them as having a life expectancy of less than 6 months. Medicare covers hospice care with some limitations. For example, Original Medicare doesn't cover room and board at an assisted living or long-term facility, or care that's aimed at curing your loved one's illness. Medicare will cover short-term inpatient care, like at a hospital or care facility, to help manage symptoms. Or for respite care, which is up to 5 days at a time in an inpatient facility so you can get some rest. The Medicare website has more information on hospice coverage. Private insurance and other Medicare health plans (like Medicare Advantage) also have coverage. But call your plan to find out what's covered.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Buslovich MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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