Understanding Hospice Care

What is hospice?

Hospice is care focused on providing comfort and quality of life when a patient is expected to live only a short time, usually six months or less.  Terminally ill patients are given hospice care when treatment options are exhausted and they are nearing the end of life.   Hospice or palliative care does not attempt to treat or cure illness but rather keep people free from pain and help patients and their families prepare for death.

In many cases, palliative care is provided at home by family caregivers helped by a team of health care workers with end of life experience.  When symptoms cannot be managed in a home setting, patients may be admitted to hospital or moved to a facility that can provide comfort during end of life.

With an aging population, the need for hospice care is growing yet only about 30 per cent of Canadians who die have access to specialist hospice care and fewer receive grief or bereavement services, according to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.  Most people when ask say they would prefer to die at home surrounded by those they love yet most deaths still occur in hospital.  That’s where hospice care can come into the picture to help families who are facing the end of life of a loved one and perhaps create an environment to experience a better death.

Who pays for hospice care?

Depending on your health coverage, hospice care is paid for by a combination of insurance benefits, charitable donations and families who often bear some of the cost.  Long term care insurance may also cover hospice care; be sure to read policies carefully to determine coverage.  Much of the care palliative patients receive in carried out by unpaid caregivers who may have to take time off work to provide care which can include personal care, medical care, homemaking services, advocacy, care-coordination and spiritual or social care.  Without respite, caregivers can suffer from stress; physically, emotionally and financially.

Most often referrals for home care, long term care or palliative care units and made through a local agency such as the Community Care Access Centre in Ontario.  Ask your doctor about palliative care choices in your community. To learn more about end of life care options visit the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association website at http://www.chpca.net.