COLUMN: Hospice is needed even during holidays

Published 7:30 am Saturday, November 18, 2023

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From personal experience, caring for a loved one is a rewarding expression of love, devotion, and commitment, but it can sometimes be overwhelming, especially during the holidays. Therefore, please remember that hospice care is available for you and your loved ones any time of the year, even during holidays.

Vickie Wacaster, Patient and Hospice Advocate with Aveanna Hospice (formerly Comfort Care Hospice)

With hospice care during the holidays, just like at any other time of year, there is no need to worry about wondering if you will spend hours and days with your loved one in the hospital, emergency room, or doctor’s office when you feel you need to be home cooking, spending time with grandchildren, shopping, polishing the silver, etc. If your loved one qualifies for hospice services – hospice can help. Hospice does not replace the caregiver, but provides services to assist the patient and caregiver.

For Medicare recipients, hospice is a Medicare Part A benefit and does not cost the beneficiary any more or less. Most other insurances, such as Medicaid, Blue Cross, and other commercial insurances, also carry a hospice benefit. Regardless of the insurance carrier, there is usually no additional cost to the beneficiary. Given statistics, the hospice benefit is underutilized. NHPCO estimates that only about half of the patients who could benefit from hospice actually receive it, and often, those who do receive hospice care, don’t receive the full benefit (late referrals).

Hospice Services include:

  • Pain Management and Symptom Control
  • Visits by a Registered Nurse
  • Hospice Aides
  • 24 Hours / 7 Days a Week RN Availability for Crisis Situations
  • Medical Social Services
  • Counseling and Spiritual Support
  • Medication and Equipment Related to the Terminal Illness
  • Grief Support for Thirteen Months
  • Ongoing Patient/Family Education
  • Caregiver Relief/Respite Care
  • Homemaker Services   
  • Dietary Counseling
  • Care overseen by a Hospice Medical Director along with patient’s personal physician
  • Medical supplies such as gloves, wipes, and bed pads

Hospice provides families with the often-needed and desired support to keep their loved one at home for end-of-life care. Because every patient is different, the hospice team works closely with the family support system and the patient’s primary physician to develop a plan of care specifically to meet the needs of the patient and the family.

For a patient to be admitted to a hospice program, the ordering physician must certify that, to the best of their knowledge, the patient has a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less if the disease follows the normal course. Medicare understands that life expectancy is not an exact science. Also, to be admitted to the hospice program, a patient must agree they are no longer seeking curative treatment, but wish for palliative care (comfort and symptom control measures) at this time in their lives. The hospice agency must obtain medical documentation to support the terminal illness diagnosis and disease-specific admission criteria established by Medicare.

The earlier hospice healthcare is involved, the more it can help make the patient and caregivers last days, weeks, and months together as calm and restful as possible.

Please speak to your physician or the hospice of your choice if you have questions about hospice healthcare benefits and admission criteria.

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”  Rosalyn Carter

— Vickie C. Wacaster is a Patient and Hospice Advocate for Aveanna Hospice (formerly Comfort Care Hospice).