By Jane Walloch, MD
It may be one of the hardest conversations to think about, much less to have with loved ones: What happens if hospice care is needed at the end of life?
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization describes hospice care as high quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness. Hospice professionals provide medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support tailored to each patient. Hospice also provides support to the patient’s family members.
No one wants to require hospice care, yet it often becomes essential. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 1.04 million adults age 65 or older died while enrolled in hospice care in 2016. Forty-five percent of them were cared for at home, 33 percent in nursing facilities, 15 percent at inpatient hospice facilities and 7 percent in hospitals.
A patient’s physician and medical team can help the patient and family determine when hospice care is needed. These discussions often focus on choosing the most appropriate location of care based on individual needs and preferences.
The palliative care team, providers focused on offering relief from the symptoms of an illness, is instrumental in developing the patient-based goals of hospice care.
Advance care planning
It’s important for people to talk about their preferences for future care openly with family members and medical professionals so they can make their wishes known in advance of a need for end-of-life care. Advance care planning helps ensure that such conversations occur when all potential options can be carefully considered and discussed.
Advance care documents describing individual preferences for end-of-life or crisis care can be developed at any time by anyone who is 18 or older. In fact, it’s recommended that individuals discuss advance care, including hospice care, engage in advance care planning and complete a care directive before they become ill or injured.
Inpatient hospice care
Everyone deserves to be treated with love, dignity and respect at the end of life. At the time that inpatient hospice care is prescribed, families want to know that their loved one will be cared for at a hospice known for exceptional care.
If you or your family foresees a potential future need for hospice care that extends beyond the home, ask to tour local inpatient hospices and meet with hospice representatives.
Members of the hospice team typically include:
The medical director
A bereavement coordinator
A chaplain or spiritual counselors
An administrator and administrative staff
Ask team members how care decisions are made and how those decisions are discussed with patients and their family members. Take note of the professional and compassionate nature of those who have chosen to provide care and reassurance to patients and their families at an extraordinary time in life.
The hospice setting
A hospice tour should also emphasize the importance of a tranquil atmosphere and calming environment. Visiting a hospice can help put everyone’s mind at ease before inpatient care may be needed.
On the tour, keep in mind that inpatient hospice care is designed to:
Make each patient’s comfort and individual wishes the highest priority while providing pain and symptom relief around the clock.
Provide precious quality time for the patient and loved ones to be together without distractions or primary caregiving responsibilities.
Provide emotional and spiritual care for the patient and family from a social worker and licensed chaplain.
Include comfortable, private and outdoor social spaces for soothing views, rest and conversation.
Some hospice patient services include preparation of special foods, pet therapy, massage, aromatherapy and visits from family pets. Other hospices may provide extra amenities such as private patios and space for family members to sleep and shower, an on-site café or other food and beverage services.
Most important, it’s essential to select a hospice in which the health care professionals, staff and volunteers provide the same type of loving attention that you would give to cherished family members and friends.
Don’t wait to decide how a loved one will be cared for at the end of life. Take time to learn about hospice care and explore options before it is needed.
Jane Walloch, MD, is a certified hospice medical director and a family medicine physician with ProHealth Medical Group in Sussex.
ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice is located in a beautifully landscaped, quiet setting in Oconomowoc. AngelsGrace accepts Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and private payments. For information about AngelsGrace, visit ProHealthCare.org/Hospice. To arrange a tour, call 262-928-7444 or 877-453-9272. Advance care planning information and resources are available at ProHealthCare.org/AdvanceDirectives.
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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.