Pauline Mailey, RN, Empath Health Chief Hospice Clinical Officer

Former President Jimmy Carter sparked a national conversation on Feb. 18 when his charity announced his decision to receive hospice care. The 98-year-old, who is the longest-living U.S. president but has endured several health scares in recent years, elected to spend his remaining days at home with his family.

The announcement raised questions for those unfamiliar with hospice. What is hospice? Who can receive that type of care? Where is the care delivered?

Basically, hospice is end-of-life care available to patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less and choose to no longer receive treatment for a terminal illness. It is commonly known as comfort care because the focus is on minimizing pain and maximizing quality of life. The majority of care is provided in the patient’s home, and the cost is normally covered by Medicare or private insurance.

But hospice is so much more than its technical definition, especially at Empath Health.

According to Empath leaders, the most important distinction between hospice care and other forms of healthcare is that medical care is provided alongside psychosocial and spiritual support, both for the patient and caregiver.

“We take care of mind, body, soul,” Empath Health Chief Hospice Clinical Officer Pauline Mailey, RN, said. “We don’t just consider the patient. We consider the patient and the caregivers. We take care of them, not at a physical place. We take care of them where they live, wherever that is, be it a home, a facility, under a bridge, motel, hotel, wherever they call home.”

Sue Zawacki, MSN, RN, Empath Health Vice President of Home-Based Services

Sue Zawacki, MSN, RN, Vice President of Home-Based Services said, “It really is what’s most important to the patient and caregiver. Maybe it’s that the grandson is graduating from high school in two weeks, and they want to be well enough to get there. Maybe it’s that they’re having a 50th wedding anniversary in a month. Maybe it’s that they want to get out of bed every day.”

Empath Health is one of the largest not-for-profit hospice and home care organizations in the country. It operates Suncoast Hospice (Pinellas County), Suncoast Hospice of Hillsborough (Hillsborough County), Tidewell Hospice (Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties) and Hospice of Marion County with services planned for Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties in the near future.

Full life hospice care services provided by Empath Health include:

  • Care delivered by a multidisciplinary team under the direction of a registered nurse. Other members of the team include physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, nursing assistants, chaplains, therapists, grief counselors and volunteers.
  • Expert and compassionate guidance provided to caregivers, helping them manage hands-on care and cope with changes that come at the end of a patient’s life.
  • Complementary services and integrative medical treatments combine traditional medicine with aromatherapy, recorded music and other specialized practices to decrease pain and stress and increase comfort and relaxation.
  • Care Centers and Hospice Houses available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide treatment to get excessive pain and symptoms under control.
  • After the death of a patient, hospice provides 13 months of free bereavement services for family members.
  • Volunteers who make visits, honor veterans, check in with telephone calls, sit with patients by the bedside, among many other tasks.


Zawacki said one of the biggest misconceptions about hospice is that care is available only in the final hours of life.

“A lot of people think you go on hospice and then you die,” she said. “The best situations are when we get people early. We are really able to support them in all those different aspects.”

Former President Carter has set a wonderful example by electing hospice early. On Feb. 26, his niece, Leanne Smith, said he “still got some time in him.”

That time will be spent with loved ones receiving the “mind, body, soul” care only hospice can provide.

To learn more about Empath Health’s hospice services, visit