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Islands Hospice serves our patients, our families, and our community with a total commitment to excellence in hospice care.

A brief history of hospice care

Posted on June 5, 2020

Ask the Expert

Kim Leland
Islands Hopice CEO
In the U.S., hospice as we know it today came about even more recently than one would think.


While the concept of hospice has been around for centuries, modern hospice practices and facilities dedicated specifically to this type of care have sprung up only within the last 100 years. In the U.S., hospice as we know it today came about even more recently than one would think. 

The modern hospice movement all started when one determined woman had the courage and leadership to share her cherished beliefs and philosophies on medical care across cities and oceans. This gave way to a whole new system dedicated to helping millions of people each year die with comfort and dignity. When we look back at our industry’s history, we can see the progress that has been made, all while keeping the original mission and purpose intact.

A different kind of care

Most people believe hospice care is founded upon the work of English nurse and social worker, Dame Cicely Saunders. After seeing a loved one suffer through a terminal disease, she realized that people needed holistic end-of-life care that encompassed mental, physical and emotional needs. Most of all, she believed in a system that was patient-centered, ensuring that care was respectful of and responsive to the individual’s preferences, needs and values, and not just medical symptoms.

Dame Cicely eventually became a doctor and opened up St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. Soon, patients with serious, untreatable conditions began leaving their sterile hospital environments to spend their remaining moments surrounded by the warmth and love of their family. Around this time, Dame Cicely became highly regarded and gained recognition around the world for her perspective on dying and care.

It wasn’t until 1974 that hospice became institutionalized in the U.S., starting with Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut. This was the birth of the American hospice movement. Studies and program demonstrations continued and in 1983, President Reagan signed Medicare hospice benefits into law, which covered care for most hospice beneficiaries.

Hospice today

Today, more people are dying at home than in hospitals, a remarkable historic reversal. With this trend, families need more support than ever to provide the right type of care to their loved ones. Almost 1.5 million Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in hospice in 2017, and that number seems to be increasing each year.

Despite our changing world and evolving methods, theories and practices, we remain bonded to our history and Dame Cicely’s mission to keep the patient at the center of care.