Hospice Care – Preserving Dignity and Comfort

When an individual is in the final stages of life, support is essential. Many people express a wish to return home and die in peace, surrounded by loved ones and in a familiar setting, but granting this wish can be difficult. Pain management often remains necessary, and an individual’s spiritual and emotional needs must be attended to along with the spiritual and emotional needs of family members. This is where hospice services come in. Hospice plays a vital role in our communities by providing necessary comfort, support and relief in the end stages of life. This support allows individuals to face terminal illnesses in a peaceful setting, free from pain and with the dignity they deserve.

Hospice differs from many traditional medical approaches to death and dying because the focus is not on curing the patient. When a patient enters hospice, they do so via a physician’s referral with the expectation that the individual has no more than six months to live. Hospice remains on-call during that time, 24-hours a day and seven days a week. Their staff consists of volunteers who assist with meal preparation, light housekeeping and respite care as well as trained nurses and doctors who manage pain and provide physical support. Spiritual and grief counselors are also available, and they spend time speaking with patients and family members to assist with understanding death and coping with the many emotions they are experiencing.

While hospice care is typically provided at home, it is also available in hospitals, long term care facilities and through dedicated hospice facilities. Basically, this program meets the needs of members of our communities in whatever way works best for the patient and the family members. This is a further testament to hospice’s goal of preserving dignity and comfort in the end stages of life.

Hospice Under Fire

Recently, hospice has come under attack by The Washington Post for draining the Medicare system of important funds. The article “Hospice services draining millions from Medicare”states that communities are seeing an increasing number of hospice survivors because individuals are being recruited by hospice when end of life illnesses are not actually present. The Hospice Association of America (HAA) – a National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) affiliate – issued a response to these claims explaining the great benefits that hospice offers to patients and their family members.

Salus Homecare stands in support of hospice. In some ways, their mission is much like ours. They preserve dignity and help individuals to meet their personal goals of remaining at home in a safe, nurturing and comfortable environment. Our staff has witnessed first hand the benefits that hospice services provide to individuals and their family members during a critical time in life. Hospice professionals and volunteers work tirelessly to keep individuals comfortable in their final days and help the family in whatever way they can during both the dying and bereavement stage. They are true professionals in the healthcare industry, and the services they provide remain essential.

An average hospice stay, according to the HAA, is less than 90 days. Family members reap great benefits during this period of time, and the potential for hospice to have a positive impact on the family is diminished when hospice care is delayed until a patient only has weeks or days to live. In addition, individuals who delay hospice services must continue to utilize other, more costly options such as hospitalization with medical treatments that have no potential to extend life or heal. The financial implications of hospitalization versus hospice care during the final stages of life are an increased strain on the Medicare system because of dollars spent on costly treatments and inpatient stays. Separation of a dying individual from his loved ones and primary support system is also a factor worth considering when talking about delaying hospice care.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services continues to work toward increasing accountability for service providers who are billing Medicare, and this includes hospice. While increased accountability and supporting frugal spending are necessary, we at Salus do not want to see access to hospice services diminished in any way. Terminally ill individuals and family members benefit greatly from these services during a sensitive time of life, and reducing access would only serve to diminish quality of life for dying individuals and leave surviving family members without an important source of support and comfort.

Hospice and Other Home Care Services from Salus

Salus Homecare in Orange County will continue to support hospice and the good it does in our communities. Their services are unlike any others that our healthcare system provides, and they play a vital role during an unavoidable, stressful and solemn time of life. We encourage you to contact your elected representatives and express this same support so that hospice remains available should your family ever require their care.