Hospice has been used as a form of end-of-life care for more than 40 years, but many misconceptions still exist.

Every day, Kimberly Darden, corporate director of hospice services at Novant Health, works to educate the community about the benefits of hospice care – particularly during November in recognition of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.

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

What is hospice?

Hospice is a patient-centered, family-focused model of care that brings patients and family caregivers 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 addresses the holistic needs of a person, which includes offering physical, emotional and spiritual care. It’s about addressing a patient’s symptoms, while making one’s end-of-life journey dignified and comfortable.  

“Our goal is to make our patients and their families as comfortable as we can,” Darden said. “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.”

How does a family benefit from hospice?

“Caring for a loved one who is sick and can no longer care for him or herself can be one of the biggest challenges for a family,” Darden said. “Our team of doctors, nurses, medical social workers, chaplains, grief counselors and volunteers work together with the patient and their loved ones to ensure that pain and physical symptoms are managed properly.”

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 educational mailings, 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.

Grief is a normal reaction to losing a loved one and everyone experiences these feelings in a different way. Novant Health offers free counseling to anyone dealing with the death of a loved one or friend, even if the loss was not connected to the health care system’s hospice program. Services offered include special seminars, education and more for up to 13 months after the death of a loved one.

“Our focus is not to tell you how to grieve, but rather to give you the information and support your need to cope with your feelings in a healthy way,” Darden said.

What are common misconceptions about hospice?

Darden noted a few common misconceptions about hospice, including:

  • Hospice is for when there is no hope or when “nothing else can be done.” In fact, hospice is the “something else that can be done” for the patient and family when there is not a cure for an illness. Hospice is not an end to treatment; rather, it is a shift to comfort-oriented care. Hospice focuses on helping patients live life to the fullest, providing extensive counseling and social service support for patients and families to address the emotional and spiritual aspects of coping with a terminal illness.
  • Hospice helps people die sooner. This is one of the greatest misconceptions. Hospice care actually improves the quality of life of an ill person and many patients live longer.
  • Hospice is a place. Hospice care is provided wherever the patient calls home. This includes a private home, an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility.

Although hospice care is the culmination of health care over an individual’s lifetime, planning for end of life should start before it is needed. Staying in control is important to all of us, but often we fail to have the necessary conversations in order to allow that to happen. To ensure an individual’s health care wishes related to end-of-life care are known and honored there are things we can do now to help ourselves or our loved ones as we grow older and near the end of our lives.

Novant Health provides navigators for patients who wish to plan for their end-of-life care as part of the Choices and Champions program. The navigators help educate patients and their families about hospice and provide them with the tools to ensure their end-of-life care decisions are documented. To schedule a free consultation with a navigator, call 1-844-677-5134 .

Learn more about the importance of end-of-life care planning here .