Hospice care in the U.S. celebrated its 40th birthday this year but, according to experts, many people are still unaware of the services a trained hospice team can provide to patients with terminal illnesses and their families as they near their last days.

What is hospice?

Hospice care focuses on comfort, pain reduction and quality of life, rather than treating or finding a cure for an illness.

“The most important thing we want to do is bring awareness that hospice is not about dying,” said Kim Darden, director of hospice services at Novant Health. “It’s about bringing hope and comfort at the time that our patients need it most.”

Hospice is a patient-centered, family-focused model of care that brings patients and family caregivers the highest quality care delivered by a skilled interdisciplinary team. A hospice care team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, nursing assistants, chaplains, pharmacists, therapists, volunteers and administrative professionals, all working together to make the wishes of each patient a priority. Hospice care can take place wherever the patient is located – in their home, the hospital or a nursing home.

Hospice allows patients to live more fully until the end through pain management and symptom control, caregiver assistance, and emotional and spiritual support.

“Our goal is to make our patients and their families as comfortable as we can,” said Darden. “With the right professionals and the right team, a hospice program can help walk you through your difficult journey by providing hope, comfort, quality and dignity for that loved one so that they can live as fully as possible until their last day.”

Darden explained that many hospice program staff is on call around the clock.

“In difficult times, both patients and families need 24-hour support, and they find comfort knowing that help is only a phone call away. For our patients who are still living at home or in a nursing facility, we make regular visits to check in on how everyone is doing,” she said.

How does hospice provide support to the family?

“Most of our families are not professional health care givers,” said Darden, “so we want to make sure that they understand that we’re going to help teach them, train them and support them in how to take care of their loved one.”

Hospice services don’t stop with patient care, either, Darden explained.

“We work with families when they first come under care to talk about what life will be like without that loved one and to help them prepare, to take the time that they need to have meaningful conversations, achieve the goals that they want and make those important decisions together,” she said.

Even after your loved one has passed, the relationship with hospice doesn’t have to end.

“After the patient dies, we want to support families with grief counseling and support groups so that they can understand what the normal emotional and physical reactions to grief are, how that can impact their life, and how to reconnect with the community so that they don’t feel alone in the process,” Darden said.

Connecting to comfort

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hospice care, talk to your primary care doctor or visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization to find a provider.