Hospice Care

Hospice care can offer important services months before it is typically pursued by friends and family of those facing a dire illness. (Beverly Yuen Thompson/flickr)

RALEIGH, N.C. -- For many, entering hospice care is often viewed as an indication of imminent death. But the hospice industry is trying to help people understand that its benefits can begin well before someone is in dire health.

Hospice care can provide pain management, as well as emotional and spiritual support, tailored to a patient's needs. But according to a new report, more than 40 percent of Medicare patients in hospice received just 14 days of care or less in 2015.

Edo Banach, president and CEO at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said hospice works not only in a person's final days, but over the last months of life.

"You really have an ability to begin to make some changes that are going to make people more comfortable," Banach said. "Less than that, you're really doing the best you can do, but you're not having as much of an impact on an individual's life, and making their life as comfortable as it could be."

Banach explained it takes time for a hospice team to work with patients and learn what their wishes are - and to work with families, putting a plan in place for medications, counseling and bereavement services. The report found 46 percent of Medicare recipients received at least one day of hospice care at the time of death, but nearly 3-in-4 received less than 90 days of care.

He said new strategies are needed to get more people the help they need when dealing with the physical and mental symptoms that families can struggle with at the end of life. Banach noted the interdisciplinary hospice model provides not only medical care but psycho-social care, which could become even more important as the nation grapples with mass shootings and natural disasters.

"And in this time when we're dealing with wildfires, and we're dealing with hurricanes, and we're dealing with opioid crises, I do want to think about how a model that provides for all those other services and provides bereavement services might have a really strong role to play in the future of health care in this country," Banach said.

The report found that not all Americans benefit from hospice care equally. Banach noted that African-American families in particular continue to be under-served, both in terms of the number of care-days and the number of patients receiving care.

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