Hospice: Dying With Comfort, Dignity, and Grace
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.
Hospice. This modern word has its root in the Latin word hospitium, which means “guesthouse.” It calls to mind a place of shelter for weary travelers seeking rest during a pilgrimage or long journey.
Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician, started the movement we know as hospice care. What started in England spread to America and then across the globe.
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month in the United States. Here is an overview of hospice -- the movement, the concept, and the impact it has on families around the world.
Hospice: The Movement
Saunders began the movement in 1967 with the opening of St. Christopher’s Hospice near London. The program established a team-oriented approach to professional caregiving for terminally ill patients.
St. Christopher's Hospice was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to provide compassionate end-of-life care.
Although the hospice movement initially met with resistance, it eventually spread through England and the United States. The first American hospice was founded in 1974 in New Haven, Connecticut.
The late 1980s saw a handful of institutions provide hospital-based palliative care programs. Today, nearly 5,800 hospice programs exist in the United States -- including Hospice Brazos Valley, whose health care team provided compassionate care for my dad during his final weeks of life.
An estimated 1.5 to 1.6 million patients received hospice care in 2014. Hospice has grown from a small, volunteer-led movement to a significant part of the American health care system. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans now cover hospice and palliative care services.
Hospice: The Concept
While some inpatient facilities provide palliative care, hospice is not a place. Rather, it is a concept of care.
According to the Hospice Foundation of America (HFA), 80 percent of hospice care is provided in the patient’s home, a family member’s home, or a nursing home.
Hospice uses a team approach to medical care, pain management, emotional and spiritual support. Care is tailored to a patient’s needs and wishes. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) calls hospice “the model for quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury.”
Hospice focuses on the belief that each person has the right to die pain-free with dignity and grace. It centers on caring, not curing. Hospice is designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families.
“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life,” was Saunders’ philosophy. “We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”
Hospice: The Impact
Hospice care begins when a terminal illness no longer responds to cure-oriented treatment. It is meant for a time when treatment can no longer help, and the patient is expected to live less than six months.
Hospice provides around-the-clock care for the dying patient. Although it addresses all symptoms of a disease or injury, it focuses on pain management.
Hospice addresses the emotional, spiritual, and social impact of illness on a terminally ill patient and their loved ones. It also provides family counseling services and bereavement support after the patient’s death.
Hospice neither hastens nor postpones death. Rather, it affirms life. The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient’s last days by treating the person instead of the illness.
“We should learn not only how to free patients from pain and distress, how to understand them and never let them down…” said Saunders, “but also how to be silent, how to listen, and how to just be there.”
Do YOU have experience with hospice care? Tell us about it in the comments below. And if you liked this post, use those nifty buttons on the left to share it with your social networks. Thank you!
- Brand, David. (September 5, 1988) "Cicely Saunders: Dying With Dignity." Time Magazine. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
- Caring Connections staff. (2013) "November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month." Caring Connections. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
- HFA staff. (2013) "What is Hospice?" Hospice Foundation of America. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
- NHPCO staff. (2015) "NHPCO Facts and Figures" National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
- Wikipedia contributors. (October 28, 2013) "Hospice." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
© 2013 Annette R. Smith