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How to Choose Hospice Care

By Ami Icanberry
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Determining the appropriate hospice care you or a loved one requires at end-of-life may seem like a daunting task to take on during an already difficult time. In a recent blog describing hospice and palliative care, I’ve received many responses from readers who want to know how to choose a hospice program that is right for them. Many of these readers have shared their experiences with me on hospice care—some good, and others bad. I’ve compiled some tips from industry experts to help take the guesswork out of choosing a hospice.

One of the first things to remember when beginning your search for hospice care is to realize hospices are first and foremost a business, and while a well-intended business, they want yours. That said, it’s important to ask questions and get answers before committing to anything. Differences between hospices are often hard to determine as they tend to provide similar services. While memberships in state hospice organizations and The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) may sound impressive, these are available to any hospice. What does matter is that a hospice is Medicare certified, as Medicare provides the baseline requirements for quality care. To qualify for Medicare certification, hospices must offer 16 separate core and auxiliary services. Core services include bereavement counseling, nutritional services and doctor services. Continuous homecare, physical therapy, medication administration and household services are all examples of auxiliary services. Also important is whether a hospice will accept your insurance.

The Hospice Blog offers some great advice and tips that will help streamline the search process for you. First, find out who owns the hospice agency you are considering, and what the owner’s background is. Is the hospice service nonprofit, for profit or government operated? The type of ownership may influence the services a hospice patient receives. And talk to the administrator when contacting a hospice. Let’s face it, the administrator has the authority to say yes or no to anything the hospice office assistant or hospice employer has promised you. If you’ve found a hospice that meets your needs, make sure it is the home office, rather than a branch. Generally, the nurse who resides at the home office has access to the person in charge. Branch offices usually do not have employees who make financial or business decisions. Finally, before choosing a hospice, find out where the on-call nurse lives. If the nurse lives far away from the patient requiring hospice care, the response time will take longer.

Below are some resources that might be helpful in locating a hospice in your area:

  • Physicians and nurses
  • Friends who have had experience with hospice care
  • Clergy, social workers and counselors
  • Medical Internet sites
  • The Yellow Pages
  • NHPCO help line (800) 658-8898

After you’ve compiled a shortlist of hospices, it’s important to interview each one to determine if a particular hospice meets your needs. Compile a list of questions to ask the hospice administrator. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. How long has the hospice in existence?
  2. What services does the hospice program provide?
  3. How often will a nurse or other hospice staff visit?
  4. Who owns the hospice?
  5. Does the hospice have any accreditation?
  6. What quality standards does the hospice meet?
  7. How are home caregivers trained?

It is my sincere hope that this information will be useful in your search for quality hospice care in your area. Hospice is about affirming life. It exists to support people with an incurable illness and their families.

Accompanying you on your journey...Ami Icanberry