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Health Care
Jun 15, 2021

10 Important Truths About Hospice Care

Sponsored Content provided by Kelly Erola - Chief Medical Officer, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare

There are many myths about hospice care. Often, these misconceptions keep people and their loved ones from getting the care and support they need at a time when they need it most. Being informed is the first step in making complex healthcare decisions and in experiencing the improved quality of life that hospice care offers patients and their loved ones.

Hospice is not a place. Hospice is a philosophy of care, not a place. The goal of hospice is to provide care where people are most comfortable – at home. Therefore, most patients receive care right where they live: in a private residence, assisted living community, skilled nursing facility, or even in a hospital. Care focuses on pain and symptom management, as well as reducing stress and anxiety, to improve quality of life. At end of life, it provides a dignified, peaceful death.

When care and symptoms cannot be managed in a residential setting, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare provides care to patients and families in one of its three inpatient hospice care centers. These home-like, serene facilities are available exclusively for our patients. Lower Cape Fear LifeCare is the only hospice provider in our region to operate inpatient facilities.

Hospice isn’t about giving up on life. When curative treatment is no longer available or desired, hospice care allows people to live in comfort and dignity for whatever time they have left. The focus is on quality of life instead of a cure. Individualized plans of care allow patients to determine what is most important to them while receiving care. Goals are re-evaluated as the illness progresses, allowing patients and their loved ones to remain in control of their care.

Lower Cape Fear LifeCare has actually supported many patients in realizing bucket list wishes while receiving hospice care: taking one last trip to the beach, meeting their rock ‘n roll hero, marrying the love of their life, and realizing a lifetime wish to exhibit their artwork, just to name a few.

Hospice is not only for the last days of life. When people hear that someone they know is in hospice care, many of them think that means that the person only has days to live. Unfortunately, that is the case for too many as most people are referred to care when they are already actively dying. The fact is that hospice care provides months of improved quality of life for patients and their loved ones.

Hospice’s interdisciplinary care teams provide “whole body” care in that they address not only physical needs, but also psychosocial and spiritual needs. They also provide much needed support, education and respite to family members/caregivers. Receiving the maximum benefit from hospice care is dependent on starting care early.

Hospice is not just for cancer patients. Cancer patients represent approximately 37% of hospice patients. The rest have some other life-limiting illness such as heart disease, COPD, liver disease, kidney failure, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or any other terminal illness eligible for hospice care.

Hospice is not expensive. Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies. This includes all care, medications, medical equipment and supplies associated with a patient’s primary illness.

Hospice is not religiously affiliated. Hospice chaplains respect the spiritual beliefs, faith traditions, and practices of all individuals. Chaplains provide spiritual care that patients and families find comforting, whether they consider themselves religious or not. They help patients explore their unique sources of faith and hope, recognize their own spiritual nature and individual practice of faith, or just provide a compassionate caring presence and listening ear.

Hospice does not hasten death. Many people think that hospice hastens death because many times, as soon as they hear someone is receiving hospice care, they learn this person has died. This has to do with when the patient was referred for care and is not an indication that hospice care hastened their death. The goal of hospice care is to improve quality of life for patients and families for whatever time they have left.

There are no studies that show that hospice care quickens death, however, there are studies that prove that hospice patients may actually live longer than patients who do not receive hospice care.

Hospice does not deny nutrition. Many people think that hospice care involves starving people. That is simply not true. Hospice patients are not denied food or liquids. However, as a person’s illness progresses and they near death, most patients will begin to eat and drink less and less. This is because the body is simply not expending energy and is also no longer able to process foods and liquids. This is completely natural and simply part of the dying process for many patients. The lack of food and liquid does not hasten death, cause the patient pain, or cause starvation.

Anyone can refer someone for hospice care: family member, friend, pastor, and, yes, your doctor. Far too often, people wait for their doctor to recommend hospice care before they consider this type of care for themselves or their loved one. By simply calling Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, we can assess if care may be appropriate. Or you can take our short quiz to find out if it may be time to consider care for you or your loved one. If you start noticing decline in status such as increasing amounts of pain medications, doctor visits or Emergency Department visits; inability to bathe, dress, or prepare meals; frequent falls; unexpected weight-loss; and/or spending more time confined to a bed or chair, it’s time to start finding out more. This way care can start sooner and improved quality of life may be possible for months.

If hospice care is not appropriate at this time, palliative care may provide the improved quality of life you are seeking while living with a chronic or serious illness. Take our short quiz to find out which care is right.

Hospice care does not end with the death of a loved one. Grief care is available to family members/loved ones in anticipation of death and for 13 months after having lost a loved one. Lower Cape Fear LifeCare has the area’s most extensive grief care program providing individual and group counseling; Healing Arts workshops; individual and in-school counseling, as well as special summer camps for children; and Family Days for helping heal families with children after a loss.

Kelly Erola, MD, FAAHPM, FAAFP, is currently the Chief Medical Officer for Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, based in Wilmington, NC, where she has worked since 2017. Previously, she was Chief Medical Officer for Hospice Savannah, Inc. for 16 years and physician leader of the Steward Center for Palliative Care. Dr. Erola is board certified in hospice and palliative care medicine and has been involved full-time in palliative care since 2002.

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