Hospice care is an important step in the care journey for people living with a serious or advanced illness. However, there are still many misconceptions about what hospice care is and the services it can provide to patients.
Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, has been Pinellas County’s community hospice for more than 40 years. With that experience comes the understanding of the unique needs and challenges patients and their loved ones face and the questions that are frequently asked.
Carol Li, DO, medical director of Suncoast Hospice, has heard many misconceptions about hospice care. Here are the facts about what patients and loved ones can expect:
Myth: A hospice referral can only come from a physician.
Suncoast Hospice will work with the patient’s primary care physician to achieve comfort and symptom management but enrollment doesn’t need to happen through a doctor. Patients and family members can call at any time and speak to the care navigation team about needs and options for care.
“The sooner a patient begins hospice care, the longer they can receive the benefits,” says Dr. Li. “Many patients and families have found they could begin services earlier by calling on their own than if they had waited for a physician referral.”
Myth: Hospice requires you to forgo all hospitalizations and needs a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.
The hospice approach focuses on easing symptoms instead of aggressive interventions. Early treatment in the home can reduce the need for hospitalization. Patients receiving hospice services are still able to go to the hospital for care if they choose to do so.
Most patients will have a DNR at some point due to the nature of a terminal condition and the desire to have a peaceful passing without unnecessary medical interventions, however it is not a requirement. Ongoing discussions with the care team can assess how this decision fits into the care plan.
Myth: Hospice is a place.
Suncoast Hospice can provide care wherever the patient calls home, such as a private residence, independent living facility, assisted living facility or long-term care facility.
“Hospice is not a location, however we offer Care Centers for patients experiencing symptoms that cannot be managed in another setting,” explains Dr. Li. “Some will see improvement and transition back home after a short stay, while others, who are closer to the end of life, may pass there.”
Myth: Hospice will provide 24-hour caregiving in the home.
Suncoast Hospice care teams consist of a physician, nurses, health aides, a spiritual care coordinator, social worker and volunteers. Services are available at any time, but does not include live-in medical care. The care team can help patients and families find community resources to provide additional care.
Myth: Hospice is only for those in the last days of life or actively dying.
Hospice is for patients with a terminal condition that have a prognosis of six months or less. Services may be extended if the doctor and team certify that the condition remains life-limiting.
“Earlier hospice referral is beneficial for patients and families so they can receive the most of what can be offered and improve quality of life during that time,” adds Dr. Li. “We have had patients “graduate” from hospice care because their condition stabilized or improved.”
Myth: Hospice accelerates the dying process.
Hospice care does not speed up or prolong death. The goal is to enhance the quality of life remaining, whether that be days, weeks, or months. Hospice supports patients and families where they are at in the process and allows the disease to run its natural course.
Myth: Hospice is for those who have given up.
Receiving hospice care doesn’t mean that someone has given up. It is a shift in the focus of care from aggressive curative therapies to aggressive symptom management. This includes addressing spiritual and emotional factors to maximize quality of life.
Myth: I won’t be able to afford hospice care.
As a community hospice, it is the mission of Suncoast Hospice to make sure everyone in our community needing hospice care receives it. Our services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, managed care, private health insurance and private pay. Through the community’s generous support to Suncoast Hospice Foundation, we can help cover care and other essential needs for those having difficulty paying.