Demystifying Hospice Care
There are no “death panels”. Hospice isn’t only for cancer patients. Hospice nurses don’t take away your medications. And hospice isn’t just for final days.
Hospice care is about quality of life, not end of life. That was the title of a video series I produced last year to help people gain a better understanding of the role hospice plays in the lives of those who are terminally ill. After interviewing dozens of patients and doctors I learned that most people had little or no knowledge of the many services hospice offers. I touched upon a few of the myths above. Susan Sisti, RN, an Intake Coordinator for The Community Hospice located near Albany, New York says that patients are often surprised by the level of services they provide. She explained, "I tell them we can get them equipment [such as] a hospital bed or oxygen. We can get them a wheelchair. We’re going to provide them some of their medications. If they are on pain medication we will be able to provide those medications that are going to keep them comfortable. So people are usually very surprised that we can meet so many different needs. I think they’re thinking that it’s going to be another nurse coming in once a week, but we’re more than that."
So, why don’t people know that hospice provides hospital beds for patients in their homes? Why don’t they know they can be surrounded by their loved ones and all that they’ve accumulated all their lives? Or that hospice care is available for up to six months, and sometimes longer? Well, the simple answer to that would be that these organizations are doing a poor job in “getting the word out.” But it’s not as simple as that. They have websites, monthly flyers, fundraisers and advertisements which appear in newspapers. Larger organizations may create radio and television commercials, but these can be costly and, because of the costs, may have a short run. There is much more that hospice organizations can do to increase both patient volume and patient stays.
A few numbers before I continue: The average stay for hospice patients at one of the largest organizations in the Northeast is under two weeks. Fourteen days. The Society of Clinical Oncology took a look at more than 60,000 patients suffering prostate, colorectal, breast, lung, or pancreatic cancer who were admitted to one of 40 hospice programs over a six-year period and discovered the average length of stay was an overall 40.6 days.Continued on the next page