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What to expect when your family calls in hospice

What to expect when your family calls in hospice


If you care for someone who is dying, you may be dealing with strong emotions, plus physical and practical challenges. When aggressive medical treatment is no longer possible -- or no longer wanted --what do you do next?

Hospice may be able to help.

Hospice is a type of healthcare focused on comfort. This can include physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort. Hospice is not about hastening death, but about striving for good quality of life for dying persons.

Hospice uses a team approach. This team can include nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides, and volunteers. Nurses work with your loved one’s medical provider to make sure physical discomforts are controlled. They provide in-person visits, physical exams, and help with managing medicines. They can teach families caregiving skills. Hospice aides can assist with tasks like bathing or incontinence care.

Other team members offer spiritual and emotional support. They can help families talk about sometimes difficult topics, such as funeral home planning.

The team also offers bereavement support after a death. Hospices provide medical equipment like hospital beds and wheelchairs. Sometimes they can help you find additional resources to improve your loved one’s comfort, safety or enjoyment of life.

Hospices work with people in many living situations. However, hospices do not usually provide total care. The focus is on support. In homes, hospice staff visit but they do not stay around-the-clock.

If your loved one lives in a facility, hospice adds to, but does not replace, the services already provided by that facility.

Medicare, Medicaid, VA and many private insurance plans have hospice benefits, but they are not all the same. Most plans cover weekly in-person nursing visits, home health aide visits up to a few times per week, and social worker and chaplain visits up to a few times per month. Most also cover medicines prescribed for comfort, plus basic medical equipment. Some pay for other options like inpatient symptom management or respite, but these coverages can be limited. When you have questions about insurance or costs, please ask your hospice team. They can often help you find the answers you need.

Sometimes dying persons need more care than expected. For example, if a person develops severe pain or other symptoms, a few days of close monitoring and management may get the symptoms back under control. The caregivers might need a respite or break, so that they do not become exhausted. In such cases, the dying persons might need to be away from their regular homes briefly.

In other cases, a dying person may need a higher level of care long term. This could occur when caregivers are limited or overwhelmed. Hospices can often help. RiverStone Health Hospice, for example, offers our accredited Hospice Home, where staff specialize in helping patients with severe symptoms; those needing respite; and those who simply need around-the-clock care at end-of-life.

In every case, the goal of hospice is always to support the dying person and their loved ones, while upholding that person’s best possible quality of life.

Kimberly Brown, R.N., nurse supervisor with RiverStone Health Hospice, can be reached at 406-651-6500.


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