What types of assistance can a hospice program provide?

Brett Snodgrass
Oncology Nursing

Hospice care is for the terminally ill.  The actual criteria to be placed in hospice care is for a primary care provider to deem a patient has less than 6 mos to live.  This is not a magic number, you will not be discharged from hospice after six mos.  This is simply a starting point. 

Hospice care teams include nursing, nursing assistants, spiritual care, physician, and social workers.  Each work together and meet on a set schedule to discuss the needs of the patient.  The amount of time each discipline spends with the patient is based on the needs at that time.  Often, early in hospice, there maybe little time spent with the nurse and direct care of the patient.  As the patient's condition deteriorates, more time may be spent with the family and patient.

Some hospice programs do provide 24 hour care, many do not.  Care of the patient is often done so in the patient's home, by family members.  There are some hospice facilities in the United States.  Some hospitals have hospice wings.  Each hospice company is slightly different in what they have to offer.  It is important to talk with you primary care provider early in a terminal illness, so that early referral to hospice can be made.

Hospice services can help with everything from insurance and other financial matters to routine chores. Some hospice organizations provide light housekeeping as part of their covered services.

The hospice staff will provide information about things to do to keep the patient comfortable. Needs will change over time, and hospice will help you understand and watch for these changes. If you have any questions, you can contact a member of the hospice staff at any time.

A hospice social worker can help with many practical concerns such as:
  • Explaining and helping to complete advance directives, if requested
  • Identifying and explaining insurance benefits
  • Explaining what services hospice benefits pay for
  • Setting up a system for staying organized
  • Linking caregivers and family to community resources
  • Setting up services with a licensed counselor or support group
  • Arranging for respite care to give caregivers time off
  • Contacting friends and relatives
  • Assisting with funeral arrangements
Caregivers also need breaks (respite) to avoid physical and emotional exhaustion. Respite care services can provide this type of relief for caregivers for up to five days. Hospice benefits pay for the patient to be cared for outside the home (at a nursing facility or other residential care facility) during respite care for the main caregiver. During this time, the caregiver can visit the patient. Talk with the hospice staff as soon as possible about arranging for this type of break because respite care may not be available immediately.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.