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Blog: Stories and Insight

How Long Can a Patient Stay in Hospice in South Jersey?

Many people think hospice is just for a dying person’s last few days or weeks. However, hospice is available – and beneficial – to people who still have many months to live. Hospice provides a wide range of supports that enhance comfort, dignity, and quality of life for both patients and their loved ones. Therefore, the earlier a patient starts on hospice, the more benefits they and their family will receive.

How long does hospice last in NJ?

Hospice care in New Jersey can last for six months or more. 

Here’s how the timing works: Anyone with a terminal illness can qualify for hospice care if their life expectancy is six months or less. The person’s doctor and the hospice organization’s physician must both certify the person’s life expectancy. 

After a patient receives hospice care for six months, they may continue on hospice in many cases. The hospice doctors would simply need to periodically re-certify them. Re-certifying a patient for continued hospice services depends on if the patient is showing evidence of physical decline. 
(For more details, see “How does the hospice process work?” below.)

In fact, it is not unusual for someone to remain on hospice longer than six months. That’s because predicting life expectancy is not an exact science. Moreover, hospice care can extend a person’s life by increasing their comfort and lessening symptoms like pain, nausea, and anxiety, among many others. 

Therefore, when someone asks, “How long can a patient stay in hospice in South Jersey?” there is no specific time limit. It depends on each person’s health, progression of their illness, and doctors’ best estimates of their life expectancy. 

Get answers to questions about hospice 24/7 at no charge: Call (800) 229-8183.

What is hospice?

Hospice is a special kind of care for people near the end of life, which focuses on enhancing well-being and quality of life, rather than attempting to “cure” the person.

People who are terminally ill often choose to stop receiving aggressive treatment at some point. That’s where hospice comes in: It helps people spend their remaining time in comfort, peace, and dignity.  

Hospice is a holistic form of care – meaning that it addresses a person’s full range of needs: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual, as defined by the patient and family. Hospice enables people to focus on what matters most to them, and often allows them to avoid hospitalization at the end of life.

Hospice care is given where the patient lives, such as the family’s home, assisted-living facility, or nursing home. Patients who need intensive, 24-hour support to relieve pain or other symptoms can receive hospice care in a specialized, inpatient hospice center.

Hospice provides benefits to the family, too, including advice and support on caring for their loved one, on-call access to the hospice team, respites from caregiving, and grief support.

Care is provided by a specially trained team, including hospice physicians, nurses, certified home health aides, social workers, spiritual support counselors, grief counselors, various types of therapists, and trained volunteers. Services can include physical care, counseling, prescription drugs, equipment, and supplies for the person’s illness and related conditions. 

How does the hospice process work?

Here are the steps involved in the hospice process: 

  1. Determine the patient is ready for hospice. The person must be terminally ill and they must also be prepared to stop curative treatments such as chemotherapy.
  2. Identify a hospice provider. The patient/family must find a qualified hospice organization that serves the patient’s geographic area. (In South Jersey, Samaritan serves the following counties: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer). The patient’s doctor or loved ones can often recommend a hospice provider. Friends and relatives may also be able to offer recommendations. For ideas on what questions to ask when choosing a hospice provider, click here.
  3. Establish eligibility. The patient’s doctor and the hospice organization’s doctor must both certify that the patient will likely live six months or less if the patient’s disease follows its normal progression.
    When does Medicare cover hospice?
    In order for Medicare to pay for a patient’s hospice care:

    1. The patient must have either Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) or Part C (Medicare Advantage plans).
    2. he hospice provider must be Medicare-approved.

    To learn more about Medicare’s hospice coverage, click here.

  4. Identify a payer. Hospice is covered by Medicare and may also be covered by Medicaid, private insurance, or the VA. Medicare covers expenses related to the person’s hospice diagnosis, including medications, supplies, and equipment. To learn more about who pays for hospice, click here.
  5. Create the care plan. A hospice nurse meets with the patient and family to identify their needs and preferences. The hospice nurse then develops a plan of care, and reviews it with the patient and family. The care plan addresses a broad array of needs, from reducing pain and other symptoms, to providing practical, emotional, and spiritual support.
  6. Start care. A hospice nurse comes to the patient’s home (or their nursing home or other care facility) to train family caregivers, bring supplies, and set up any equipment that may be needed. (Samaritan also provides care in its two inpatient hospice centers.)
  7. Follow and update the care plan. One or more hospice team members visit the patient regularly – based on the care plan – to provide care and support to the patient and family. As the patient’s condition progresses and their needs change, the hospice nurse updates the care plan.
  8. Re-confirm eligibility. The hospice doctor must periodically re-certify the patient for hospice care by re-confirming that the patient is showing evidence of physical decline. To determine how long a patient can stay on hospice services in South Jersey really depends on this process and periodic assessment of the patient for signs of improvement or decline. Medicare, for example, pays for two consecutive 90-day periods of hospice care, followed by an unlimited number of 60-day periods. At the start of each period, the hospice doctor and the patient’s doctor must re-certify that the patient has a life expectancy of six months or less, in order to continue hospice care. The patient can also change hospice providers once during each benefit period.
  9. Support around death and grief. Hospice team members help the patient and family when death becomes imminent. They keep the patient comfortable, console loved ones, and let family caregivers know what to expect and what to do. Samaritan also offers special “vigil volunteers” to stay with the patient around the clock, so no one must die alone. Most hospices provide grief counseling for a year or more after a death. Samaritan also offers grief support groups. When people ask, how long does hospice last in NJ, the answer can be many years, if one includes the support available both before and after a person’s death.    

Finally, it’s important to realize that hospice is about living. Its focus shouldn’t be on how long it will last but instead it is about helping patients and families have as good a life as possible, up to and including the moment of death. And after a person’s death, hospice can be there to help survivors cope with their loss and move forward – on their own timetable – with their life. 


To learn more about hospice care in South NJ, please click here or call Samaritan 24/7 at (800) 229-8183.