The word Hospice has a stigma around it that many associate with giving up hope and giving into an inevitable death.


People don’t want to talk about death, they don’t want to think about death, and they often go along with life pretending it doesn’t exist, until it hits them in the heart and they are forced to face their worst fears and make some very heavy decisions while in a very vulnerable state of mind.


According to National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the average length of stay nationally for hospice patients is less than 90 days, with a median length of service of 18 days. Around fifty percent of Medicare decedents were enrolled in hospice at the time of death.


The truth is, families often don’t start hospice services until the patient is in their final days to weeks of life, when their loved one is no longer eating, drinking, or responding.


In doing so, they are missing out on a valuable opportunity to improve the patient’s quality of life for the months prior and helping caregivers to cope with the changes their loved one is experiencing.


Some of the benefits of starting hospice as soon as you or your loved one qualifies include:

  • Having a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides, and spiritual care counselors visit your loved one at home, or in the facility which they live, and devise a plan of care that revolves around the wishes and goals of the patient and their family.

  • Developing relationships with the team members who will be providing care

  • Developing routine schedules with your care team for visits at home.

  • Having conversations surrounding patient’s wishes throughout the process.

  • Prevention of unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

  • Having time to get your affairs in order and assistance with creation of advanced directives including decisions on resuscitation and desired medical interventions.

  • Management of distressing symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.

  • Supportive services, such as music, pet, art, massage, and other therapies to help with relaxation and coping with the changes at end of life.

  • Assistance with creation of legacy or memorial pieces.

  • Respite Care services to give the caregivers a much needed, and well deserved break for a period of time to prevent caregiver burnout and reduce stress.

  • Volunteer services to provide companionship, assist with non-medical tasks, or to sit with your loved one for a period of time so caregivers can run errands.


To qualify for hospice, the person must have a terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less to live.


Families may call into their local hospice and do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral to start the process.


Nursing facilities, hospitals, and the like, do require a referral which is basically Hospice’s permission slip to enter their building and see their patient. If a family contacts Hospice while their loved one is in a facility, Hospice can assist with getting the process going quickly.


It is possible to receive these services even longer since no doctor has a crystal ball and can predict the exact time of someone’s departure from this life to the next.


The exact time and day may not be known, but there are signs and clues that Hospice looks for in order to recognize decline. They monitor the patient through the process, educate on what’s to come and how to manage it, and try their best to prepare everyone for some of the toughest days ahead.


Hospice does not do the work for you. If you have a loved one at home, Hospice will come in to make visits, or perform specific tasks, like a bath a few times a week, nursing visits, dressing changes, medication management, spiritual care counselor and social worker visits, and provide you with some supplies and equipment. But again, they do not do the work for you.


If you need additional help or cannot care for your loved one, you will need to work with your social worker on resources for placement, or find/hire a caregiver.


Signing up for hospice sooner rather than later can have a positive impact for both the patient and their loved ones. It is not a sign of weakness, giving up, or losing hope.


It is changing your focus from quantity of time left to quality of time left, spending time with loved ones. Hospice supports the person and family in their unique end of life journey.


Even with Hospice’s help, people still need even more support. This is the most difficult time of your life. The loss. The heartache. Watching your loved one decline and pass away. Support groups online are filled with people needing more help. Needing someone to talk to that understands what they and their loved one are going through.


That is why I am here.


If you want to receive daily support by an experienced hospice nurse to help you through this time, I’m here. I’ve been a hospice and oncology nurse for 16 years and my mission in life is to make this transition smoother for those that need to go through it.