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Eight Hospice Myths Debunked

Hospice is a model of medical care that one can choose when nearing the end of life that focuses on managing symptoms and optimizing quality of life over curative treatment.  While hospice has been around for decades, for many, it is still a misunderstood model of care.

“Hospice care offers a patient and their family compassionate care tailored to their specific needs,” said Nurse Practitioner Hilary Licardi, DNP, of Samaritan Evergreen Hospice.  “Many family members express gratitude for the care their loved one received in hospice and at the same time say they wish they had known about hospice as a care option sooner. Unfortunately, there is a general lack of awareness and understanding in our culture of what hospice care is, how it can benefit a patient and how someone can access hospice care.”

The following are common myths of hospice and the facts to dispel them:

Myth 1: Hospice Is a Place.

While there are hospice facilities that provide short-term hospice care for patients, such as Samaritan’s 12-bed hospice house in Albany, most hospice support is provided in a patient’s home. Typically, an interdisciplinary team comes to a patient’s home to provide care. The patient could be cared for in their private residence, a nursing home or a family member’s home – wherever it is they call home.

“People often choose to switch to hospice so that medical care and support comes to them so they can avoid hospitalizations, regular office visits and lab draws,” said Licardi.

Myth 2: Hospice Is Giving Up.

In the early stage of a disease, a patient will often choose to pursue every avenue of treatment available to them, hoping for a cure. As treatment fails, priorities can change.

“As a disease progresses, hope can have a new meaning for a patient,” Licardi said. “Often, we see a patient hoping for the best quality of life so they can enjoy time with family and friends. They often want to experience comfort and peace, something many find in their own home setting surrounded by familiar people, pets and possessions.

“Hospice makes goals like these possible because a patient’s quality of life is our top priority,” said Licardi.

Myth 3: Hospice Is Only for the Last Few Days of Life.

Hospice care can be accessed up to six months before an expected death.

“A person may consider hospice care an option at the point when they no longer want to pursue aggressive treatment, or when treatment is no longer helping. They may be struggling with pain or breathlessness and want those symptoms managed so they may still spend quality time with family and friends,” said Licardi.

Once a person is on hospice care, they can choose to remain on that care for longer than six months. They can also choose to leave hospice care altogether if they want.

“The end of life can be difficult to predict,” said Licardi. “We do not stop caring for a patient or kick them out of hospice if they live longer than six months – the timeframe is a general guideline only.”

Myth 4: Hospice Staff Hasten Death.

“The goal with hospice care is to manage a patient’s symptoms, such as pain, breathlessness and anxiety, so that they can live the best life they can,” explained Licardi. “We use medications to relieve symptoms only and never to speed up the dying process.”

“We listen carefully to a patient and hear what they most want from their life at any given time and then work to find the right balance of medication to support them in their goals,” Licardi added.

Myth 5: Hospice Is Giving up Control.

 “When we first meet with a patient and their family, we set up a care plan together. Then we regularly check in with the patient and family to see how that plan is going, and if the patient wishes to make alterations in the plan, we make them,” said Licardi.

“Our primary goal is to help the patient have the best quality of life they can, and we support them and their families in making that possible, whether it is minimizing pain, increasing wakefulness so they can spend more time with their loved ones – really, whatever the patient feels is most important,” Licardi explained.

Myth 6: Hospice Is Only for the Elderly.

Hospice care is available to anyone of any age – children, adults and the elderly. A physician must certify that a patient is terminally ill with six months or less to live if the disease takes its normal progression. The person can have any type of serious illness, be it cancer, heart disease, dementia or other terminal conditions.

Myth 7: Hospice Is Too Expensive.

Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid and by most private insurance plans, often at 100%.

That coverage can include medications treating symptoms and addressing the diseases causing a limited life expectancy; medical equipment like hospital beds, wheelchairs, and oxygen; personal care supplies and the costs of professional staff.

Myth 8: You Must Be Referred to Hospice by Your Doctor.

Anyone, including the patient, caregiver or family member, can make a referral for hospice care.

“Hospice programs offer the latest in palliative and end-of-life care to alleviate a person’ symptoms and improve their quality of life. Each patient and their caregivers receive individualized care that meets their unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs in an often very difficult time,” Licardi said.

If you have questions or concerns about whether hospice care is right for you or your loved one, contact Samaritan Evergreen Hospice at 541-812-4662.

Hilary Licardi, DNP, sees patients at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice. To reach her, call 541-812-4662.