How to Choose the Right Hospice Program

When medical care can no longer help a patient, the next step can be hospice care. While medical care aims to cure, hospice care aims to relieve physical and mental pain. It lets terminally ill patients spend their final days, weeks or months taking medication to ease the pain so they can focus on unfinished business. That can include anything from having final conversations with loved ones to perfecting their putting technique on the golf course. Knowing how to choose the right hospice program is an important part of the end of life process.

How to Choose the Right Hospice Program
Once the decision is made to move to hospice, how do you choose the right hospice program? These steps can help:

  1. Ask about the policies. For example, how quickly can a team member respond if the patient needs new pain medications?
  2. Ask the advice of doctors, friends, and others who have family members who have taken advantage of hospice. Do they feel like the hospice was responsive and attentive to the patient’s needs and wishes? What services are offered? Can patients get care at home or only in a facility? Is the recommendation based on a business relationship – maybe the doctor is on staff or the program is run by the hospital – or based on the quality of care, support services and patient experience?
  3. Explore what support programs are offered to surviving family members during and after hospice.
  4. Find out whether the staff is large enough to meet the needs of the patient and family. If the patient doesn't get along with the assigned caregiver, will there be someone else to take over the care?
  5. Visit inpatient hospice to see if the facility and staff meet your expectations. Find out how easy it is for patients to move from home to inpatient hospice and back.
  6. Talk to the patient directly about his or her needs and wishes. Then interview hospice staff to see if the program is likely to live up to the patient's expectations. If not, look further.

Sunny Langlinais, a non-denominational hospice chaplain in south Houston, says her job "is to help [patients] say what they need to say before they leave – to seek the forgiveness, love, reconciliation, whatever they need – and help them come to terms with the fact they are dying. Then I midwife them into the hands of God, whoever their god happens to be. In the process, I also minister to the families, help them let go, say goodbye, and be OK with the process."

Agreeing to move from treatment to hospice care is not irreversible. If a patient's health improves, the patient can stop hospice care and resume treatment. So, Langlinais says, there's no reason to be afraid of hospice. "The thing I hear over and over is, 'I wish I had done this sooner.'"

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