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Understanding Hospice: Top Questions, Answered by Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care

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When a loved one is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, many of us want to provide them with the highest quality of comfort in the final days, weeks and months. That’s where hospice care comes in.

Hospice care is designed to focus on the quality of life, rather than its length. The goal is to preserve patient dignity by attending to their emotional and spiritual needs, so they may live as comfortably and peacefully in their final stages of life.

To gain a deeper understanding of hospice care and the philosophy behind it, we spoke with Kristin Kitzmiller MSW, LISW-S, support services director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care.

Below are answers to commonly asked questions, including the difference between hospice and palliative care, who qualifies, and signs to look out for.

Q: What is hospice care?

Contrary to popular belief, hospice care is more about living than it is about dying. It’s a philosophy of care that focuses on comfort by preserving the quality of life for an individual faced with a life-limiting illness. Hospice care is designed to attend to the physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual needs of patients and their families when a death is near.

Q: What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

Many people use the terms hospice and palliative care interchangeably because they focus on pain and symptom management. This biggest difference between the two is when the type of care begins.

Palliative care generally begins at the time of a diagnosis. The individual can choose to continue all forms of treatment and therapy. Hospice care, on the other hand, generally begins when the disease is its final stages, and the individual elects to not move forward with any aggressive forms of treatment or therapy.

Palliative care is billed through a person’s insurance, like a physician’s visit, whereas hospice care is considered a benefit under Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran Assistance Programs and other forms of insurance.

Q: Who provides hospice care?

A hospice agency works with the individual’s primary care physician to provide comfort and care. Hospice provides an interdisciplinary care team consisting of, but not limited to:

  • A registered nurse.
  • Social worker.
  • Aide.
  • Spiritual care coordinator.
  • Volunteers.

Together, all parties create an individualized plan of care to meet the needs of the patient and his or her family.

Q: Where is hospice care given?

Individuals may receive hospice care at a private residence, or through a long-term care facility, group home or hospital. Hospice care is given wherever home may be for the individual.

Q: Who is best suited for hospice care?

Any individual who has been diagnosed with a life-limiting disease may elect for hospice care. It has been said that hospice care is designed for anyone with a life expectancy of six months or less, but it’s very difficult to put a timeframe on disease progression. The best thing a family can do when a death is near is to call a hospice or palliative care agency, as they can help determine which program may best fit the individual’s needs. 

Q: What are the signs its time to start hospice care?

While it can be hard to know who qualifies for hospice care, there are several signs that indicate it may be time to consider an evaluation with a hospice agency. These include:

  • Recent hospitalization.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Changes in normal behaviors (eating, sleeping, communicating and moving).
  • Stopping dialysis or chemotherapy.

Sometimes, individuals and their families recognize the need for hospice before a healthcare practitioner does. In this case, Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care recommends calling an agency for an evaluation to determine next steps.

Q: What programs and/or services does Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care offer?  

Crossroads offers hospice and palliative care services, as well as unique patient care programs.

The Ultimate Gift Program inspires patients to live their lives to the fullest. The hospice care team works with the patient and their family to create the perfect day. From there, staff members, volunteers and local businesses come together to bring these perfect days to life through art and music. The Ultimate Gift Program also includes life journals for patients to leave as legacies for loved ones after passing.

The Grief Recovery Method Outreach Program helps families cope with life after the loss of a loved one. It’s a 12-week program led by a Crossroads’ Grief Recovery Specialist, where participants get the bereavement support they need.

The Watch Program is a special level of care created to monitor a patient’s developments through multiple daily visits. By having a care team member present several times throughout the day, Crossroads is able to recognize when the passing of a patient is near. At that point, they can exhaust every effort to be with the patient and families as they pass.

The Veteran’s Recognition Program acknowledges veteran patients by providing a certificate and honorary presentation for patients.

Q: How can families prepare for hospice care knowing a death is near?  

The best thing a family can do is reach out to a hospice agency for answers to their questions. Hospice is an emotional decision. That’s why Crossroads has specially trained staff available 24/7 to help families navigate the healthcare system, provide resources and offer a listening ear.

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