Understanding Hospice: The Many Benefits


by Annette Miller, Area Director of Operations, Gentiva Hospice 

“I would not have made it without hospice.”

“You are just an angel.”

Often heard, these words mean so much because they typically come from a Hospice patient or family member.

When a patient or family first hears about hospice and life-limiting illness, it is always a difficult time. In these challenging moments, it’s important to know that there is an option that can help a loved one get the most out of life and live as fully and as comfortably as possible.

While many have heard the term “hospice,” they often are not fully aware of the meaning or services offered. The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines hospice as “a program or facility that provides palliative care and attends to the emotional, spiritual, social, and financial needs of terminally ill patients.” Palliative care is care that provides comfort measures when a specific cure is unavailable for a person’s disease.

The bottom line: Hospice’s main focus is to help a patient live out his or her last days with dignity and respect.

Hospice provides hospice care in the home, nursing home, and assisted living facility – in other words, wherever the patient calls home. This is important because providing care in the setting most familiar to the patient is usually the most comforting. But hospice care actually centers on the entire family. The team of medical directors, skilled nurses, social workers, spiritual care coordinators, hospice aides, and specially trained volunteers focuses on individual care while offering the family all the support they need, including bereavement care following the loss of their loved one. With this holistic approach, hospice care meets a range of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.

A person is eligible for hospice care when their life expectancy is six months or less, when they are no longer seeking aggressive treatment, and when their personal physician believes that hospice is the appropriate type of care. While a patient with any end-stage disease may be eligible for hospice care, the most common diagnoses seen are cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke, and end-stage Alzheimer’s. Getting into a hospice program early can improve the quality of the days ahead for everyone, giving them time to prepare mentally, physically and spiritually.

Anyone can make a referral to hospice, and once the referral is received, an RN visits the patient and family to assess the patient and thoroughly explain the services that are available based on that patient’s and family’s needs and wishes. Most hospice services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance and managed care plans. Military personnel and their dependents can receive hospice care through TRICARE. But services are available regardless of ability to pay. The benefit typically covers all home medical equipment, supplies and medications related to the hospice diagnosis.