What is Hospice Skip To Content

What is Hospice

Hospice care is available to any person with a life-threatening or terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less if the illness runs its normal course. People can remain in hospice longer than six months if necessary. Through hospice, patients and their families receive emotional and spiritual comfort and support, improving quality of life during an end-of-life illness. Consisting of specially trained nurses, licensed social workers, a medical director and clinical pharmacists, the hospice team is available all day, every day as a resource for physicians, families and patients at any point during their illness. Services include:

  • Pain management
  • Bereavement counseling
  • Spiritual and social support
  • Assistance with daily challenges associated with caring for patients in end-of-life situations

Sanford Hospice is entirely supported by contributions from the community and is one of three inpatient facilities in South Dakota. Services are delivered in a variety of settings including the homes of patients and long-term and respite care facilities. In addition, the multi-generational, acute-level Sanford Hospice facility named Ava’s House is scheduled to become the fourth facility in the country to offer inpatient pediatric hospice services in October 2017.

Myths and Questions about Hospice (NHPCO)

Choosing hospice means that I'm "giving up hope."
When a cure is no longer possible, hospice provides the type of care most people say they want at the end of life--comfort and quality of life. The most common statement made by families who chose hospice for their loved one is, "we wish we had known about hospice sooner."

Hospice care won't allow me or my family to be involved in making decisions about treatment.
Hospice puts patients and families at the center of care. Trained professionals provide guidance and encourage open, honest communication about individual wishes and choices.

I want to care for my husband at home; I don't want him to go to a hospice.
Hospice is not a place, but a philosophy of care. The majority of hospice care takes place in the home, where the person can be surrounded by family and familiar settings.

My mother lives in a nursing home and I can't bring her to my home to care for her, so hospice wouldn't be available.
Hospice and palliative care is available in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even hospitals--wherever the patient lives and considers home.

Hospice care just keeps dying people heavily medicated; all they focus on is the physical process of dying.
Hospice pain management is highly specialized and tailored to each individual, to ensure the highest quality of life possible to live each day until the end. In addition, hospice utilizes complementary therapies such as music and art, and provides emotional and spiritual support to the dying person and the loved ones, including bereavement support for the family after the death.

Someone told me hospice care is only for older people with cancer.
Hospice programs have developed guidelines to care for anyone, at any age, facing a life-threatening or terminal illness.

Is hospice available after hours?
Hospice care is available ‘on-call’ after the administrative office has closed, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  Most hospices have nurses available to respond to a call for help within minutes, if necessary.  Some hospice programs have chaplains and social workers on call as well.

How does the hospice work to keep the patient comfortable?
Many patients may have pain and other serious symptoms as illness progresses.  Hospice staff receives special training to care for all types of physical and emotional symptoms that cause pain, discomfort and distress.  Because keeping the patient comfortable and pain-free is an important part of hospice care, many hospice programs have developed ways to measure how comfortable the patient is during the course of their stay in hospice.  Hospice staff works with the patient’s physician to make sure that medication, therapies, and procedures are designed to achieve the goals outlined in the patient’s care plan.  The care plan is reviewed frequently to make sure any changes and new goals are in the plan.

What role does the hospice volunteer serve?
Hospice volunteers are available to provide different types of support to patients and their loved ones including preparing light meals, staying with a patient to give family members a break, and lending emotional support and companionship to patients and family members.

What happens if I cannot stay at home due to my increasing care need and require a different place to stay during my final phase of life?
Hospice may provide inpatient care in a hospital for patients who cannot stay where they usually live. This service provides patients in need of more intense care such as pain management and other symptom management.

Do state and federal reviewers inspect and evaluate hospices?
Yes.  There are state licensure requirements that must be met by hospice programs in order for them to deliver care.  In addition, hospices must comply with federal regulations in order to be approved for reimbursement under Medicare.  Hospices must periodically undergo inspection to be sure they are meeting regulatory standards in order to maintain their license to operate and the certification that permits Medicare reimbursement.

There are also voluntary accreditation organizations that evaluate hospice programs to protect consumers.  These organizations survey hospices to see whether they are providing care that meets defined quality standards.  These reviews consider the customary practices of the hospice, such as policies and procedures, medical records, personal records, evaluation studies, and in many cases also include visits to patients and families currently under care of that hospice program.  A hospice program may volunteer to obtain accreditation from one of these organizations.

Is hospice just for the last few days or weeks of life?
You are eligible for hospice care if you likely have 6 months or less to live.  

When is the right time to ask about hospice?
Now is the best time to learn more about hospice and ask questions about what to expect from hospice services.  Although end-of-life care may be difficult to discuss, it is best for family members to share their wishes long before it becomes a concern.  This can greatly reduce stress when the time for hospice is needed.  By having these discussions in advance, patients are not forced into uncomfortable situations.  Instead, patients can make an educated decision that includes the advice and input of family members and loved ones.

Palliative Care is specialized care for people with serious illnesses that is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment.

Hospice Care occurs when goal of care is comfort measures only and not seeking aggressive treatment; life expectancy 6 months or less. It is provided where ever patient is: home, skilled nursing home, assisted living facility, hospice cottage, inpatient hospice facility or hospital.