Today is the 20th of January.  47% of the patients we admitted onto Monarch Hospice this month have died already, most of those within 3 days.  2 within hours of their admission. And although our nurses were able to provide them the comfort and dignity they deserved; they could have had so much more had they been referred to our services earlier.  It saddens me.

For years, hospice advocates have passionately been fighting the stigma that “Hospice is only for the last few days of life”.  Hospice is SO MUCH MORE and the sooner we are introduced to the patient and their families, the more support and comfort we can provide to help them during their end-of-life journey and preparing them for the final event of their lives.

While our nurses do focus on physical symptoms and controlling them, hospice has a whole team to address the emotional distress caused by fears, financial concerns, caregiver stress, funeral planning, and the list can go on. We address spiritual distress caused by fears of “what happens next”, questions of “was I good enough”, anger at their situation or unresolved conflicts, regret for past decisions and actions, and the list can go on. We provide education to family members and facility caregivers on how to care for their loved. We help families realize they can take care of their loved one. We provide socialization; which has become so important during these times of Covid restrictions. We provide bereavement care to families to support them as they adjust to life without their loved one.

Hospice care is a specialty type of medical care; the same as cardiology, pulmonology, neurology and oncology are specialties. Our team of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and aides have all received specialized training specific to the needs of those facing life limiting illnesses and end of life. 

In my 14 years of hospice care I have had the opportunity to care for hundreds of hospice patients and their families. The statement I hear most often after their loved one’s death is, “I wish we would have started hospice sooner”.  They know the benefits that hospice brought to the table and know that the burdens they struggled with prior to our introduction to their care could have been lessened earlier.

So, when is the right time to start hospice?  There are medical guidelines set by Medicare that someone must meet to start hospice and they vary by health condition or disease.  Also, hospice care needs to align with the individual’s goals of care.  Simply put, the doctors wouldn’t be surprised if the individual died within the next 6 months and the individual is not wanting to return to the hospital or seek aggressive treatment for their health conditions. This doesn’t mean he/she will die in 6 months and in fact we often see improvements in patients. Addressing their symptoms whether physical or emotional improves their quality of life, allowing them to enjoy what time they do have left and focusing on things important to them before they die.

So, when is the right time to contact hospice? I am guessing now.  If you are reading this, chances are you or your loved one is facing a life limiting illness and you have questions.  The sooner you establish a relationship with your hospice of choice the better. Even if the individual doesn’t qualify yet, getting your questions answered, learning what your hospice of choice offers and learning how to initiate care when it is the right time will make the transition to hospice care easier when it is the right time.

Don’t be the caregiver that says, “I wish we would have called hospice sooner”. Hospice isn’t for just the last few days or weeks.  Take the steps now to get the care you and your loved ones deserve.

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