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Hospice 101

Learn the basics of Hospice Care

Myths and Realities

Myth: Hospice is a place.

Reality: Hospice is a service and philosophy of care, not a specific place. Hospice care usually takes place in the comfort of an individual’s home, but can be provided in any environment in which a person lives, including a nursing home, assisted living facility, or residential care facility.

Myth: Hospice means that the patient will soon die.

Reality: Receiving hospice care does not mean giving up hope or that death is imminent. The earlier an individual receives hospice care, the more opportunity there is to stabilize a patient’s medical condition and address other needs.

Myth: Hospice is only for cancer patients.

Reality: A large number of hospice patients have congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, chronic lung disease, or other conditions.

Myth: All hospice programs are the same.

Reality: All licensed hospice programs must provide certain services, but the range of support services and programs may differ. In addition, hospice programs and operating styles may vary from hospice to hospice.

Myth: Hospice is just for the patient.

Reality: Hospice focuses on providing comfort, dignity, and emotional support not only for patients but also for their families, loved ones and caregivers.

Our hospice care team is there to support family members, loved ones and caregivers through our extensive social work, spiritual care, volunteer services, respite and bereavement services.

Myth: A patient needs Medicare or Medicaid to afford hospice services.

Reality: Insurance coverage for hospice is available through Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Some programs charge patients co-pays and other fees in accordance with their ability to pay.

Islands Hospice provides free care to all terminally ill patients regardless of ability to pay.

Myth: A physician decides whether a patient should receive hospice care and which agency should provide that care.

Reality: The role of the physician is to recommend care, whether hospice or traditional curative care. It is the patient’s right (or in some cases the right of the person who holds power of attorney) and decision to determine when hospice is appropriate and which program suits his or her needs. Before entering a hospice, however, a physician must certify that a patient has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has a life expectancy of six months or less.

Myth: To be eligible for hospice care, a patient must already be bedridden.

Reality: Hospice care is appropriate at the time of the terminal prognosis, regardless of the patient’s physical condition. Many of the patients served through hospice continue to lead productive and rewarding lives. Together, the patient, family, and physician determine when hospice services should begin.

Myth: After six months, patients are no longer eligible to receive hospice care through Medicare and other insurances.

Reality: According to the Medicare hospice program, services may be provided to terminally ill Medicare beneficiaries with a life expectancy of six months or less. However, if the patient lives beyond the initial six months, he or she can continue receiving hospice care as long as the attending physician re-certifies that the patient is terminally ill. Medicare, Medicaid, and many other private and commercial insurances will continue to cover hospice services as long as the patient meets hospice criteria of having a terminal prognosis and is re-certified with a limited life expectancy of six months or less.

Myth: Once a patient elects hospice, he or she can no longer receive care from the primary care physician.

Reality: Hospice reinforces the relationship between a patient and primary care physician by advocating either office or home visits, according to the physician's preference. Hospices work closely with the primary physician and consider the continuation of the patient-physician relationship to be of the highest priority.

Myth: Once a patient elects hospice care, he or she cannot return to traditional medical treatment.

Reality: Patients always have the right to reinstate traditional care at any time, for any reason. If a patient’s condition improves or the disease goes into remission, he or she can be discharged from a hospice and return to curative measures, if so desired. If a discharged patient wants to return to hospice care, Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies and HMOs will allow readmission.

Myth: Hospice means giving up hope.

Reality: Hospice helps patients reclaim the spirit of life and make the most of the life that remains. It helps them understand that even though death can lead to sadness, anger, and pain, it can also lead to opportunities for reminiscence, laughter and healing of mind and spirit.  At Islands Hospice our staff and volunteers are experts in bringing hope to the last chapter of life.