When the hospice philosophy of care first reached American shores in the mid-1970s, it was mostly volunteers providing end-of-life care in their communities: neighbors helping neighbors to avoid hospitalizations and stay in their own homes as they coped with the final stages of an illness.

Now, more than 30 years later, there are more than 5,500 hospice programs throughout the country, providing care to approximately 1.5 million patients each year. While all hospices are required to provide specific services outlined by Medicare, there are many differences in the delivery of those requirements to take into consideration when choosing a hospice.

It is recommended that patients and their families explore their hospice options before services are actually needed. When families have reached a crisis point, it is helpful to have one less decision that needs to be made because the research has already been done.

Dr. John Saroyan, BAYADA Hospice Medical Director, suggested the important points below to consider when choosing a hospice that can best meet the needs of you and your family.

Weekend/Evening Availability

When your family makes the call to begin receiving hospice care, how responsive is the organization? Some, but not all, hospices are available to do initial evaluations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Once you are receiving care, changes in health can feel more daunting when they happen in the middle of the night. You never know when these situations may occur, so it’s helpful to know ahead of time that there is a hospice team member you can reach out to that can guide your family through crisis moments.

Values

The core values of an agency guide the care that is provided. Not only are the words important, but the employees should be living examples of those values. Do they exhibit warmth and compassion? Do they have the clinical expertise necessary to care for patients at end of life? Explore the agency’s reputation and speak to others who have used the service. Take note of your initial interactions, the response to your first phone call, how your questions are answered, and the demeanor of the first nurse who comes to speak to you and your family to evaluate your needs.  

Ability to meet your needs

There are a number of ways to judge if an agency can meet your needs. One of the simplest is knowing how long it has been in operation. An organization that has been in existence for decades has established best practices, and has spent many years building a reputation that it is very important to maintain.

Another important factor is depth. Depth allows for continued growth and the resources to respond to a wide variety of unique, specialized needs, such as caring for veterans, children, or patients with end-stage dementia.

If an office focuses exclusively on providing hospice care, it will employ only hospice professionals and will be dedicated solely to providing quality end-of-life care.

Physician availability

All hospices are required to employ
a medical director who Hospice Patient Reviewing Care With Nurse can oversee patients’ care. However, the extent of involvement of the on-staff doctor(s) varies greatly. You may have more peace of mind with a hospice where the physician is on staff full-time and is available to the hospice’s patients and families. That availability increases the physician’s ability to visit patients’ homes. Also, check to see if the medical director is board certified in hospice and palliative care medicine or has a long established history of providing
hospice care.

Accreditation and Certification

While hospices are not required to receive accreditation, you may want to consider choosing an agency that has gone through a rigorous process to meet nationally recognized standards of care, such as accreditation by CHAP (Community Health Accreditation Program).

Another way to assure that an organization follows industry standards and stays informed of  best practices is to confirm that it is a member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

Employee Screening

When welcoming a home hospice professional into your home, you should be confident that they have undergone rigorous background and reference checks before they begin caring for you or your loved one. You can feel secure with an organization that has done such checks and also fully insures their employees.

Another important thing to know about the caregivers who will be coming into your home is the types of professional training they are required to complete when they are first hired, and what, if any, additional training they undertake throughout their employment. 

Coverage area

Confirm that the agency you are reaching out to provides care in the city or county where you or your loved one live. How long might you have to wait for a hospice professional to be at your door, if there is an after regular business hours need?

When a patient and family make the decision to focus solely on quality of life and stay at home, the many decisions that need to be made are overwhelming. Knowing who to call for hospice care ahead of time means there will be one less decision to make in that moment. If you are living with a life-threatening condition or have a loved one who is, research the hospice providers in your area now. Save your time and energy in the future for creating lasting and loving memories.

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