As loved ones reach the end of life there comes a time where man’s science can no longer save them. However, they may need more or different care than we can provide on our own. At such a moment we enter the world of hospice.
My first real-world introduction to hospice came when my grandmother passed away several years ago.The comfort and assistance that our whole family received at that time made a big hospice believer out of me.
Hospice treatment involves an entire team of medical, mental health, spiritual, and social work professionals. All hospice team members have received specific training in end of life issues. Of particular interest to Christians is the presence of a chaplain on many hospice teams.
The term “hospice” comes from the Latin word hospitium, meaning “guest house.” St. Christopher’s the first modern hospice was founded outside London by Dr. Cicely Saunders in the 1960’s. The first hospice in the United States was founded in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974. There are now over 4,700 hospice “agencies” across the country. In 2007 they cared for over 1.4 million people and their families.
When is it time for hospice? In most cases hospice agencies will not accept a patient until there is a diagnosis that the patient has less than a year to live. Hospice becomes an option when death is inevitable, but life is not yet over.
One interesting facet about hospice care is that hospice teams care for the families as well as the patient. Many agencies even extend these services beyond the time of the patient’s passing.
Even though hospice has been in this country for over 35 years many people are still unaware of it as an option. Many also fear that the cost of hospice will be out of their reach at a time when a family’s finances are already stretched especially thin. The good news is that hospice care is rarely more and often less expensive than end of life care would otherwise be. This, in part, is because hospice agencies are often non-profit and make use of volunteer professionals. Hospice professionals have expertise in end of life care that can make their services less expensive than you might think.
Another misconception is that because hospice cannot provide a cure, nothing else can be done. This is not the case. Hospice teams are experts at palliative care. Both pain and nutrition, for example, can be managed to make the patient’s last days as comfortable as possible. A big concern is that families will have to change physicians to enter hospice. This also is untrue. Many, if not most, hospice agencies will work with the physician of choice.
Hospice is a method of treatment, not a place. In fact, hospice or palliative care is delivered in a wide variety of settings. Hospice teams work in hospitals, nursing homes and dedicated facilities. Many patients receive care in their own homes where they are surrounded by their families and familiar settings.
Where do we find hospice? Your physician may be a good place to start. If your loved one is hospitalized, they may have a social worker who can refer you to a local agency. As in all times of difficulty, don’t be afraid to ask your pastor. Pastors by nature of their calling keep up with resources in the community. As our society ages, things like hospice are becoming a lot more common.
When someone you love is near death, hospice can ease the transition. More communities are finding themselves home to hospice agencies.
Rev. Robert A. Crutchfield is the founding pastor of Compassion Church of Katy and is a Fire and EMS Chaplain. Visit faithinspires.wordpress.com to learn more or call 281-660-4294.