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Most Frequently Asked Questions: Hospice Care

When should a person enter a hospice program?

A person with a life-limiting disease is eligible for hospice when the prognosis is six months or less. To enter a hospice program, a patient and their family must be comfortable with the idea of stopping treatment to "cure" his/her disease. This is a difficult decision as the focus changes to patient comfort, symptom management, and quality of life.

Who should make the decision for a person to enter a hospice program?

By law, the decision belongs to the patient. Most often the patient's physician and family are also involved in the process.

Is hospice care only for cancer patients?

No. A person with a prognosis of six months or less to live is eligible for hospice care, regardless of their diagnosis.

Is there an age requirement for hospice care?

There is no age requirement. Newborns to people over 100 years of age have been hospice patients.

What is involved in the hospice admission process?

Anyone can make a referral to hospice — physician, social worker, family member, friend, or member of the clergy. If the patient would like to know more about hospice, a hospice staff person will schedule a meeting to explain hospice services and answer any questions.

When the patient decides on hospice care, hospice will contact his/her physician (with the patient's permission), to confirm that the patient is eligible for hospice. Admission papers will be signed. Then a registered nurse will complete a medical exam, and an assessment of pain and symptoms. Once the care plan is determined, a primary nurse will be assigned to the patient.

Can the hospice patient keep his/her own doctor?

Yes. Hospice works with the patient and his/her physician to determine the best care plan.

What type of changes need to be made in the home before hospice care begins?

Depending on the patient's needs, some furniture may need rearranging. If equipment is needed, hospice will arrange for the delivery and pay the rental.

Is home the only place that hospice care can be delivered?

Hospice services can be delivered wherever the patient lives, including their own home or that of a family member, an assisted living facility, nursing home, or hospital.

How is hospice care paid for?

A hospice benefit is available through Medicare and Medicaid. Most private health insurance companies have a hospice care benefit. No one is denied care based on inability to pay.

What services does hospice provide?

Hospice provides a team of physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, home health aids, clergy, and volunteers. Hospice also provides equipment, supplies, medications related to the patient's terminal disease, and special therapy as needed.

Will there be a nurse at the house every day?

A nurse will visit at least once or twice a week. However, based on patient need, additional visits will be arranged.

What if professional help is needed during the middle of the night?

A nurse is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays and weekends.

Does hospice make death come any sooner?

No. Hospice care does nothing to make death happen sooner or later.

Does hospice provide any help to families after the patient dies?

Hospice provides continuing contact and support for the family and friends of the hospice patient for at least a year after the death. Hospice offers support groups for adults, and has special grief programs for children.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide