Do your end-of-life plans include a stipulation for hospice care? They should, as the time to make your wishes known, is before you need services.
Throughout the years, you’ve planned for your life with care. Nobody wants to think about dying. Yet, mortality is just as inevitable as birth.
Have you considered what you would do if you or a loved one were diagnosed with a terminal illness? How would you want to live out your final days? Like most people, you want your limited time to be as dignified and pain-free as possible.
In these situations, many people choose hospice for themselves or terminally ill family members. Just hearing the word may elicit anxiety and popular misconceptions. Knowing what palliative or comfort care is and what it is not can broaden your understanding of better end-of-life decisions.
History of Comfort Care
One of our greatest fear of dying is that we do not want to suffer. Maybe you have watched a terminally ill love one racked in pain and suffering a deplorable dying process. You probably vowed that you never wanted that to be your plight.
Palliative care is a relatively new approach to care for the dying. As late as the 1960s, families sought alternative end-of-life care that minimized pain and involved a holistic approach to treat body, mind, and spirit. The first hospice houses in the United States were run by volunteer medical staff with help from their local communities.
Up until recently, palliative and end-of-life care training were sparse for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Excellent medical practice and techniques concentrate on treating diseases and injuries to make people healthy again. Little attention was given to how to keep terminally ill patients comfortable when curative treatments are no longer useful.
Today, comfort care options are available almost everywhere in America, from major medical centers to small privately-owned palliative clinics. Palliative care is a recognized and paid benefit for people who have Medicare, Medicaid, or both. If you or someone in your family is facing terminal illness and further treatments are futile, palliative care is a reassuring option.
Common Misconceptions of Hospice Care
We are all terrified of the unknown, so the correct information we have, the better we can make critical decisions. When you hear the word “hospice” or “palliative care,” what comes to mind? Do you imagine a Dr. Kevorkian giving you a lethal injection if you have a terminal illness?
Isn’t that what palliative care does, and aren’t they mercy killers? While it may seem absurd, many people still believe this myth. Not only does such misinformation mar the mission of comfort care, but it discourages terminally ill patients from using a beneficial service.
Myth: The cost of hospice
Maybe you have heard that if you sign up for palliative care services, it will cost a fortune. If the government pays for it, then they will confiscate your home and property when you pass. Did you know that comfort care services are guaranteed and paid benefits when you have a medicare supplement?
Myth: You don’t need a cancer diagnosis to qualify
Well, don’t you have to be a cancer patient to be eligible for comfort care? Although many people with terminal cancer choose a palliative route, they are not the only ones on these services. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a government agency that outlines a plethora of terminal conditions that make patients eligible for comfort care services.
Myth: You must be in your final days
If you decide to accept palliative care, don’t you have to be on your death bed? So many terminally ill patients suffer needlessly for months because of this tragic misunderstanding. Yes, many accept comfort care services days before dying, but they could have been qualified by their physician up to six months earlier.
Now that you have debunked the harmful myths of palliative care, you know that it is not mercy killing, and you will not lose your home. You do not need to be a cancer patient nor be actively dying to be eligible for the services. You’ve discovered what comfort care isn’t, now see what it is.
The Truth About Hospice Care
Since its conception, our government has worked to define palliative care services and who are eligible. Although each state’s regulations may be slightly different, federal guidelines are the same across the nation. Knowing your rights will help you decide on services when the time comes.
The first step to being eligible for comfort care is to be certified by a licensed physician. Your doctor must verify that you have a terminal condition with a prognosis of six months or less. Some people live past the six- month mark and maybe re-certified.
Did you know that there are no age limits for palliative care? Contrary to myth, comfort care is not just for seniors. Terminally ill juveniles are admitted to services with different rules for consideration.
To be eligible for palliative care, you agree with your doctor that further treatment would be futile. This does not mean that you can’t continue treatment that is reducing pain or improving the quality of your remaining life. If you decide to continue treatment for the disorder, you will no longer be qualified for comfort services.
What to Expect from Palliative Services?
Comfort care does not seek to shorten life, nor does it seek to lengthen the process). Rather, the focus of hospice is to place the quality of life over quantity. It aims to ensure patients” comfort, dignity, and the right to make choices for themselves.
Most palliative services offer care options that are tailored to the needs and desires of patients and their families. If you dread the thoughts of passing in a sterile hospital or nursing home, hospices are well-known for end-of-life care in the comforts of home. Maybe you don’t want your family to see you pass at home, so you can have palliative care in a facility or wherever you choose.
Some palliative care organizations run hospice homes that are staffed around the clock. These facilities have a warm, relaxing atmosphere like home. Your family can be with you the whole time with the support of compassionate caregivers.
Who Serves Hospice Patients?
When you register for comfort care services, you will have more than a nurse taking your vitals once a week. Comfort care services utilize a multi-disciplinary team made up of medical professionals, social workers, spiritual care advisors, and trained, caring volunteers. At all times, you and your family make the decisions for your care.
The medical director will work with nurses, STNAs, and therapists to monitor your condition and make any changes for pain management. Your team social worker can help you and your family with issues that arise in family dynamics and final planning. If you need spiritual support and counseling, team chaplains and counselors will be there for you and your family.
One of the most significant complaints of hospice patients is the lack of social interaction. Palliative service organizations have trained volunteers from the community who visit patients regularly, as the patient wants. These compassionate people are often with their patients throughout the end-of-life journey.
Just because you are eligible for palliative care does not mean you have no hope. Although a doctor may certify that your life expectancy is six months or less, many people outlive their prognoses. Some people have a turn-around in their health and are no longer eligible for services.
At any time, you and your family have a right to cancel comfort care and resume curative treatments. If you choose, you can later be readmitted. You have the right and dignity to choose as you please with these services.
Final Thoughts: Make Your Wish for Hospice Care When the Time is Right Known to Your Family
The end of life is an inevitable path we must all make. However, you do not have to make the journey alone. When you opt for palliative care, you join hands with caring professionals who meet the needs of your triune being of body, mind, and spirit.
After your physician determines you are eligible for palliative care, you and your family may search for a local hospice service that best suits your needs. Feel free to research different companies and read online comments and recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their services, policies, and qualifications.