Hospice and Palliative Care

hospice care

Hospice home care is a unique kind of care that offers support to a person who is at the end of life and is not seeking medical treatment to extend life. Rather than treating the person’s illness in hopes of recovery, hospice care provides comfort, dignity and quality to a person in their last six months of life. Hospice care allows a loved one to remain at home while managing physical and emotional symptoms and providing support to family and caregivers.

Hospice care is often described by families as a way to make a person’s end-of-life beautiful and peaceful. The fundamental principle of hospice is that each of us has the right to live each day pain free and in comfort.

“Hospice care is often misunderstood,” said Kelly Eckert, RN, Hospice Supervisor, Penn Highlands Healthcare at Home. “It doesn’t speed up the death process, and it doesn’t delay it either. Rather, it provides respite to a patient so that they can spend their final months with their family and loved ones.”

What is hospice care?

Hospice professionals work with a patient’s physician to design a plan to assess, monitor and manage symptoms to provide the highest quality of life in a patient’s final months, weeks, and days. They also support loved ones and caregivers by teaching them what to expect throughout the end-of-life journey, the best way to provide care and how to care for themselves. Often, the most beneficial thing hospice nurses bring is reassurance to family members that they are caring for their loved one correctly and that their loved one is not in pain.

Hospice services may include:

  • Medications to manage pain, improve comfort and maintain quality of life.
  • Emotional support and, if desired, professional counseling to help patients and family members process emotions and resolve issues to find peace and closure.
  • Spiritual resources that honor the patient’s traditions and beliefs and guide the patient and family through the last stages of life.
  • Assistance with identifying resources to help with financial, food, transportation and other social support needs.

Where can hospice care be administered?

Most hospice care is provided in the home, but services can also be offered in a hospital, skilled nursing facility, nursing home or at dedicated hospice facilities.

Who is eligible for hospice?

Patients of any age are eligible for hospice who meet two criteria:

  • A physician must certify that the patient is terminally ill
  • If the illness runs its normal course, life expectancy is six months or less

How long is hospice care typically provided?

Hospice care can be started as soon as a person is determined to have six months or less to live. Hospice services can be stopped and restarted at any time. Sometimes, hospice care can help a patient feel well enough to stop for a period and then choose to resume it. If a patient’s medical needs become unmanageable at home, they may be admitted to the hospital or a nursing home for care.

What are the benefits of starting home hospice care early?

People often think hospice care can only be provided in the final days of a person’s life, but many families who have used hospice say later that they wish they had elected to use it earlier.

“The main benefit of starting hospice care early is to provide a comfort care plan, which helps patients have a better quality of life,” said Ms. Eckert. “It can also help a person get the most out of their final months. Patients may use this time to check items off a lifelong bucket list, spend time with family members and friends, prepare advance directives and outline wishes for their memorials.”

What’s the difference between hospice and palliative care?

The primary difference between hospice care and palliative care is whether the patient is continuing to receive medical care to treat their underlying health condition in hopes of getting better or living longer. Hospice care provides comfort for patients who have chosen to no longer treat their medical condition, while palliative care is specialized care for patients with a serious illness that seeks to cure their condition.

Penn Highlands Healthcare at Home offers loving, compassionate and committed hospice care to patients and their loved ones. The multidisciplinary Penn Highlands Hospice Care team includes many types of medical and support service professionals as well as dedicated volunteers. All members of the team are professionally trained in the care and support of patients during the end-of-life period. To learn more about Penn Highlands Hospice services, visit www.phhealthcare.org/hospice or call 1-800-841-9397.