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What is hospice?

When a family member or friend is faced with a terminal illness and you are faced with the inevitability of a death of someone close to you, many individuals choose to go home to die in a place that has been a source of comfort. Hospice is a choice that allows dying individuals to be focused on quality of their remaining days rather than the quantity of life they have left. Hospice caregivers are not only often times medical professionals that can give pain relief but also are there to give both the patient and the families emotional and practical support. Hospice volunteers can give some relief to the family simply by taking over for a short period of time and allowing family members to regroup both physically and emotionally.

Hospice care acknowledges that dying is a normal process of life and they are available to provide comfort – not to accelerate or postpone the inevitable. Hospice volunteers are sensitive to the needs of the patient and the family and can assist with any special requirements that the family may have and also recognize the symptoms of grief and can help you through the intiall stages of the grieving process. Hospice patients are not solely cancer patients and hospices are available to any individual that has a limited life expectancy and of any age or illness.

The decision to choose hospice care is a very personal and individual decision. Hospice care volunteers are trained to provide emotional, physical and spiritual support to both the patient and the families of those that have a terminal illness and prefer to spend their remaining days at home.

What is a hospice team?

A hospice team is a team of trained medical professionals and volunteers that together can provide medical, emotional and physical support to an individual that has limited life expectancy and their family. The team typically consists of a physician, nurse, possibly a home health aide and other volunteers that are trained to be there for the family and patient and to assist with quality of life rather than quantity of remaining days.

The medical volunteers of your hospice team will make scheduled visits to provide any sort of pain management and additional medical support. The patient's physician is continually informed of the patient's condition and the nursing care and home health aides can assist with any additional personal care that the patient will require.

Social workers are an important part of the hospice team and can often times assist the family with the emotional expectations of losing a loved one at home. They can explain the grieving process and also assist with the emotional needs of the family and the emotional needs of the patient. Social workers often act as a liaison of sorts with the medical support to assure that both the needs of the patient and the needs of the family are being fulfilled.

Religious assistance is also available through hospice care and for families with a strong need for spiritual relief, chaplains can be of vital importance.

How do I find hospice care for my loved one?

When searching for a local Hospice it is important to do your research and be certain that you are getting exactly what you need. There are several important factors to consider including the availability of the services you need, the quality of the care, the training of the personnel and the coverage provided. Most localities have a wide range of hospice providers that will fit a variety of situations depending on what you're looking for.

The patient's physician is typically a good starting point and may have several resources for you to research before making your final decision. You can also check with your local hospital as they generally have a complete listing of Hospice care providers in your area and may have additional pertinent information that will help you narrow down your choice. The American Cancer Society or the Visiting Nurse Association are two additional resources that may provide a wealth of information.

Your state's health department can also be a resource to receive a list of licensed organizations. The certification of a local hospice should be given close review as that is what makes hospice eligible for Medicare and, depending on your state, Medicaid as well.

Choosing the best hospice care for your loved one is an important role and during a time of grief, it is imperative to make clear decisions on the care of your loved one during their final days. A Hospice Team provides an immense amount of support and care and the right team can make all the difference.

What questions should I ask a hospice care provider?

Once you have narrowed down your hospice program there are a number of questions that you should ask in order to be certain you will be getting the best hospice team for your loved one. Every hospice program is different and while certainly all have quality care and can assist the family through the grieving process of losing a loved one, every individual's situation is different and thus you need to be certain you are getting the care your loved one deserves.

Certification and accreditation are two very important factors in any hospice organization. Your hospice program should be accredited by a nationally recognized body. This accreditation assures you that your hospice program is not only committed to providing top quality care but this accreditation is sought voluntarily. Medicare certified hospice programs are important as it shows they have met the federal requirements for care of terminally ill patients. You also want to make sure that any hospice program you select has been licensed by your state.

Ask for references and any additional consumer information they can give you! A good quality hospice program will have a written brochure or written paperwork that states their services, costs, payment, what your hospice team will consist of, insurance information and more. They should also be willing to give you the names and numbers of families that have used their services upon request.

What is the admissions policy? If you don't feel comfortable with their policies then that particular agency is most likely not a good fit. Is there a plan of care for every patient and do they work with each individual family to be certain that the needs of their loved one are being met? It is important that the hospice program as well as the family are following the same protocol and a good hospice program should be willing to work with you and list all the duties that will be needed.

Inpatient care, services and availability of staff are additional questions that need to be addressed in order to be certain that you are getting the best quality care for your specific situation. Do not hesitate to ask about personnel, costs or any other additional questions you may have about their program.

Can I be a hospice volunteer?

Every hospice team is made of qualified medical personnel as well as various non-medical personnel that are meant to provide a source of support for the family and the patient. These volunteers are an integral part of the team and often serve on a regular basis as they are needed. Their endless patience in assisting grief stricken families cope with the loss of someone they love is a valuable and indispensable service.

Volunteers provide a myriad of duties such as companionship and even just visiting and listening. If there are letters to be written or perhaps a patient would like to be read to a hospice volunteer can provide that additional and much needed support while giving family members a reprieve. Volunteers can be a source of interest to the patient that they have similar hobbies with. If there are errands that need to be done and family members can't bring themselves to leave the bedside of their loved one, volunteers can assist by picking up medication, grocery shopping or any additional small errand that eases some of the family's burden. Basic housekeeping, preparing meals or transporting the family to and from appointments can all be of tremendous value and assistance to the family of the terminally ill.

A hospice volunteer is a special human being that often times views being a part of the hospice team as a blessing. You can locate your local hospice to check into volunteer requirements by contacting your physician, a local hospital or the yellow pages.