By Susan A. Worline, M.Ed

Hospice is a word many don’t understand or have a fear of understanding. According to Webster’s dictionary the word hospice means “A facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the emotional and physical needs of the terminally ill”. However, even though the dictionary states hospice as a program it is also a philosophy.
Hospice is derived from the Latin word hospitium, hospitality, and inn for travelers, usually kept by a religious order. The hospice movement evolved in England by Dr. Cicely Saunders in the 1940’s when St. Christopher’s Hospice opened its doors to provide a quiet place where people could die in peace and with dignity.
In 1974 Hospice care was introduced in the United States at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Since then, the hospice movement has expanded with several different organizational models, and though each program may be diverse, they share the hospice philosophy. The hospice philosophy embraces a holistic approach that encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns of the patient and their family. Despite all of the advances in diagnosis and treatment, a cure is not always possible and with continued treatment may at times compromise a patient’s quality of life.
Some patients and their families are afraid of the word hospice, believing that all treatment will be discontinued and that the patient is being sent home to die. But many kinds of treatments can continue to provide the comfort and relief of pain enabling the patient to live at their best each and every day. Many times patients get better on Hospice because of the continuous care the patient receives.
Hospice is a philosophy that affirms life by promoting self-determination as well as the patient and their families participating in their plan of care. In addition, it provides an education to help patients and their families with the appropriate care. Hospice is hopeful in encouraging, empowering, and accepting our loved ones life bringing peace.
For many hospice companies, they believe in the hospice philosophy and the philosophy of “aging in place” bringing the highest quality comprehensive care for the patient and their family. For example, most people, from my experiences, would like to be surrounded by loved ones when they are dying in their homes or wherever their home may be such as an assisted living facility or nursing home. Patients and families are able to retain a greater sense of control at home or an assisted living facility than in a hospital environment. Though each experience is different for each patient and the families involved, it is vital to curtail to the needs of what the patients’ needs are no matter what they call home.
So how does one know when Hospice is appropriate? When medical treatments have been exhausted or the burden of treatment outweighs the benefits, it may be time to consider hospice care.
The hospice experience can foster spiritual and personal growth. The Hospice team, consisting of a medical director, nurses, cna’s, social services, chaplain, and volunteer services allows the team to provide the highest quality of care for the patients and their families.
So if you are afraid of the word hospice, don’t be. Knowledge is power, but more importantly knowledge eliminates fear.