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Blog: Stories and Insight

What Does Hospice Do & How Does it Help?

When people hear the word “hospice,” they may think of someone in their last moments of life. They may envision a hospice worker checking on the person, making sure they’re clean and comfortable.

Such scenarios, however, represent only a small portion of what hospice does.

In fact, hospice focuses on living — and making the most of the time you have left, up to and including the moment of death. Hospice offers a vast array of supports to both patients and their families. What’s more, hospice can start well before a person’s final days or weeks — enabling them and their loved ones to benefit the most from hospice’s unique level of assistance.

What does hospice do?

Hospice is a special kind of care that provides comfort, support, and dignity at the end of life. It is designed for people whose illness cannot be cured or significantly slowed, or who choose not to receive certain treatments. Hospice is typically available to those whose life expectancy is six months or less.

“When people ask me how does hospice help, I sum it up like this:  Hospice enables you to live in peace, comfort, and dignity in your final months.”
Dr. Stephen Goldfine, Chief Medical Officer,  Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice

Hospice addresses a person’s full range of needs: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Care is provided by a team of trained professionals and volunteers, including doctors, nurses, aides and counselors, among others. Around-the-clock access to caregivers is available as needed.

Hospice can be provided wherever the patient is living: in their home, nursing or assisted living facility, inpatient hospice center, or hospital room. Hospice can also help the patient’s family by providing education, advice, and grief support.

If you live in South Jersey and have questions about hospice care for your loved one, please call Samaritan at (800) 229-8183.

How does hospice help patients and families?  

Hospice helps patients experience their best possible quality of life and live each moment to the fullest. It does this by controlling pain and other symptoms, and by addressing any other needs — whether emotional issues, practical worries, or spiritual concerns. In addition, hospice helps people focus on and achieve their own wishes and priorities for their remaining time.

The hospice team also helps family members cope with the demands of caregiving and the issues surrounding death. Hospice provides grief support both before and after the patient’s death.

Hospice focuses on you and your family, rather than on your illness.

What else does hospice do?

Hospice helps by providing:

  • Peace of mind. Hospice is there to provide help and guidance when you need it, including 24/7 availability by phone. Hospice teaches you how to care for your loved one and what to expect as their illness progresses.
  • Expert care. Hospice organizations have teams of professionals from various disciplines, to address patients’ and families’ diverse needs. At Samaritan, for instance, the team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual support counselors, health care aides, and other specialists. Each member is trained to provide comforting, end-of-life care. Your personal doctor is also part of the team.
  • High-quality care. Hospice offers care that enhances patients’ well-being and can even extend their life. Through addressing a persons’ physical, as well as emotional and spiritual health, the team is able to meet a patient’s goals of care when curative or aggressive treatment therapies are no longer effective or desired. The focus of care is helping the patient to be as comfortable as possible in the days, months, or years leading to the end of life. Special attention is paid to symptom management and pain control, which would allow the patient to be as alert and involved in life as possible. Supportive services such as social work, spiritual support counseling and other therapies, such as music and massage, assist in providing emotional and spiritual health.
  • Dedicated volunteers. Trained hospice volunteers can provide companionship and breaks for family caregivers. Samaritan also has volunteers who receive additional training to sit with a person who is dying when loved ones are unable to be there, so no Samaritan patient dies alone. And, after a patient’s death, Samaritan volunteers make periodic calls to the family to check on how they’re doing and offer additional support.
  • Regular visits. Members of the hospice team will visit you and your family regularly, based on the patient’s plan of care as determined by your hospice nurse.
  • Care where you live. Patients can often remain in their current residence, whether it’s their own home, a loved one’s home, or their assisted living or nursing facility. In fact, hospice care can often help people avoid the need to be hospitalized in their final days or weeks. And some hospice organizations, including Samaritan, operate inpatient hospice centers for patients who need around-the-clock care to manage severe pain and symptoms.
  • Support based on your wishes. Hospice care centers on your individual needs and choices. It focuses on what matters most to the patient — from engaging in preferred activities, to getting help with bathing and dressing, to resolving relationship or spiritual issues.
  • Maintenance of dignity. Hospice helps you live your final days and hours with peace and dignity. You are not connected to noisy equipment. You are not constantly poked and prodded by medical staff. And you don’t undergo invasive or aggressive treatments to extend your life. You are kept comfortable, clean, and as pain-free as possible.
  • Support for families before and after death. Hospice offers family support by social workers and chaplains. Samaritan also offers individual grief counseling, and helps families complete some of the tasks that are necessary after death. We provide a variety of grief support groups, as well.
  • Potential cost savings. Hospital bills at the end of life can be overwhelming for families. However, when a patient receives hospice care, their out-of-pocket costs are often much lower than they would be without hospice. That’s because Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, and private insurance help cover hospice costs.

In addition, hospice organizations provide hospice-related medications and medical supplies at no charge to patients or families. These can include pain-relief drugs, supplemental oxygen, incontinence supplies, and many other items. Samaritan encourages patients and families to check with the patient’s insurance provider to determine which elements of hospice care it covers.

“When someone asks ‘what does hospice do?’ the answer is nearly limitless, because hospice addresses each patient’s individual needs and wishes.”
Mary Ann Boccolini, President/CEO, Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice

What does hospice do if I change my mind?

The choice of hospice does not have to be permanent. People can go on and off hospice; they can re-enroll as long as they still meet the hospice criteria (typically, a life expectancy of six months or less).

For example, a hospice patient may change their mind and decide to seek curative treatment — such as chemotherapy, heart or lung surgery, or dialysis — instead of receiving hospice care. And at a later point, the patient may choose to go back on hospice.

In other cases, a hospice patient may live more than the expected six months. If the person is still close to dying, their doctor can continue to certify them for hospice care. Sometimes, a person improves enough to leave hospice care. They can return later if their physician feels they have six months or less to live.

If you live in South Jersey and have questions about hospice care for your loved one, please call Samaritan at (800) 229-8183.