Lexington Health Network

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Understanding Hospice Care

Understanding Hospice Care

Lexington Hospice Care provides a compassionate, nurturing, end-of-life experience for those with terminal illness. Hospice care also provides family support. A doctor and the hospice team can assist the patient and their loved ones in deciding when to begin hospice care. Whether at home or a facility, it should start as soon as possible so that the patient and their family can receive the full benefit of the expert services that hospice provides.

What Are the Purposes of Hospice Care?

Hospice care provides care for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, when curative treatments are no longer effective, becoming less beneficial and more burdensome, decreasing quality of life. Patients and their families receive physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual support. There are several purposes of hospice care:

Keep the Patient Comfortable

When a disease is terminal, symptom control helps a patient enjoy the remainder of their life with dignity. The team and physicians work with the patient and family designing individualized treatments to manage their symptoms. Services that hospice provides to keep the patient comfortable may include:

  • 24-hour access to nursing care
  • Management for pain, nausea, and other symptoms
  • Physical therapy
  • Education and training family members to care for the patient

Maintain Quality of Life

Symptom management can help a patient enjoy the company of loved ones and make important decisions. Hospice care supports quality of life in several ways, such as:

  • Spiritual support from a chaplain
  • Help with advance directives, and other practical matters
  • Assisting the patient do things they enjoy, such as gardening, 
  • Helping the patient and family to accomplish personal goals and wishes.

Provide Support for the Family

Hospice care serves the family as well as the patient. Caregivers deal with stress, exhaustion, and sadness and need emotional support when a loved one is terminally ill. Support for family and loved ones includes:

  • Grief counseling and support groups
  • Respite care
  • 24-hour access to the hospice team

What Are the Levels of Hospice Care?

Routine Home Care

Routine home care provides basic, regularly scheduled care to patients who are homebound. This is the most common level of hospice care. “Home” can be a private residence, assisted living facility, or nursing home. A team coordinator schedules visits for the hospice team based on the patient’s needs. 

Routine care includes:

  • Hospice Team care including Nursing, Aides, SW, Chaplain and Integrative Services
  • Medical supplies
  • Wheelchair, bed, and other durable equipment
  • Therapy based on MD order and need

Medicare-certified hospice providers have a 24-hour on-call nurse. Families can call if they have urgent questions or need an unscheduled visit. For example, a patient may develop uncomfortable side effects after starting a new medication. Even in the middle of the night, a caregiver can call a nurse to have their questions answered or obtain a visit.

Continuous Home Care

Sometimes, patients need more than routine care to manage acute symptoms. Continuous home care provides nursing care during a crisis for periods of 8 to 24 hours. Situations that require continuous home care include:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Uncontrolled pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting

Continuous home care allows the patient to stay at home during a crisis and provides support for family members. For example, a family member may notice that the usual medications are not relieving their loved one’s pain. A nurse can care for the loved one overnight until the pain subsides.

General Inpatient Care

In some situations, a patient may need a short-term skilled nursing inpatient level of care to manage symptoms. General Inpatient level of care while on hospice may be provided in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice inpatient facilities.

The acute symptoms in this level of care are generally the same as in continuous home care. For instance, a home hospice patient may suddenly develop severe shortness of breath. Inpatient level of care provides nursing present around the clock to care for the patient at this acute stage.

Respite Care

Respite care is one way that hospice serves the patient’s family. Even with regular visits from nurses and other healthcare professionals, family caregivers can become exhausted and burned out. Although not always necessary, respite care gives family caregivers a break for up to five consecutive days.

A hospice agency works with specific Medicare-certified healthcare facilities that can provide 24-hour skilled nursing care. Respite care may take place in stand-alone hospice, or long term care facility.

What Is the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

Hospice and palliative care are similar in many ways, but there are significant differences. The goal of palliative care is to manage symptoms and improve a patient’s quality of life, while undergoing aggressive cure seeking treatment and intervention. It is available at any stage of an illness. Palliative care, for example, would apply to a person who feels nauseous after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. A doctor may prescribe medications to relieve nausea, a side effect of chemotherapy. Palliative care manages the patient’s nausea while the goal to cure the cancer remains.

On the other hand, hospice care is available when curative treatment is no longer effective and a patient has a life expectancy of six months or less. A hospice care team collaborates with the patient physician to provide specialized care to meet the changing needs of the patient and family at an expert level. Symptom management, dignity, and quality of life are the goals of hospice care. Eventually, chemotherapy and other treatments may no longer be able to cure that same cancer patient and the burden of treatment outweighs the benefit. The hospice team provides  a specialized level of care to meet the needs of the patient and family.

For More Information

When treatments are no longer working for a serious illness, many questions arise. Please don’t hesitate to contact Lexington Health Network with any questions you may have about hospice and palliative care in the Illinois area.