Monday, January 26, 2009

Hospice Care Remains a Misunderstood and Underutilized Benefit, According to In-House Hospice

RJ Note: We've talked before about how beneficial Hospice can be to both patients and their families. Fayette County is blessed to have several options available as our citizens look and consider this type of care for our loved ones. Be sure to talk to one of our favorite groups, Hospice Advantage of Fayetteville. They've helped us before- even out of state referrals to other groups.

/PRNewswire/ -- As unemployment continues to rise in the United States, Americans are battling to hold onto their health coverage. Many are worried about what would happen if they were struck with a serious medical condition - who would care for them? How would they pay for the care? But the widely known benefit of hospice care is often underutilized due to various misconceptions. This benefit is available to all eligible Americans - whether they are employed or not.

Although hospice care has slowly increased over the years with more than 1.2 million Americans enrolled, many Americans are still uninformed of its full services. Because hospice is often misunderstood by patients, family members and some health care providers, many patients who can benefit from hospice care are never enrolled. Of those patients who are enrolled, care is often given far too late. In fact, over 30 percent enter hospice within one week of death - much too short a time for the patient to benefit from the full range of services provided by hospice.

"We have to spread the message to more physicians, hospitals, patients and their family members to utilize hospice programs more appropriately," stated Laura A. Wagner, President and CEO of In-House Hospice. "Hospice services are covered through Medicare and most Medicaid programs. Even certain private insurances programs allow for hospice benefits. There is rarely out-of-pocket expense to the patient."

Wagner explains that Medicare patients are entitled to receive hospice care up to 180 days. Occasionally, with the improved quality of life, many patients live beyond the six month prognosis at which point their case can be reviewed and possibly approved for another 180 days of hospice programs.

"People pay into unemployment benefits in case they lose their job," explained Wagner. "What people don't realize is that they have also been paying for a hospice benefit. And now, with people out of work, losing their life savings, their homes, they should be using their hospice benefit to help themselves or their loved ones during this most important time. The hospice benefit helps the patient, the family and caregivers."

Those who are aware of hospice care often associate it strictly with cancer patients. But illnesses that qualify for hospice benefits also include: Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), Parkinson's, adult failure to thrive and HIV.

Hospice services are not intended to speed up or prolong the dying process, but focuses instead on relief of pain and other symptoms while increasing quality of life. Hospice provides a holistic approach to care and often involves a team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, home health aides and physicians with expertise in pain and symptom management. The team can also provide support to family members, significant others and children; for example, bereavement support is available for 13 months following the death of a loved one.

A trained healthcare professional is usually scheduled to visit on a daily or weekly basis as needed and is always on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The services often provided by a hospice program will include:

-- Personal care for the patient, in a manner that respects the
individual's dignity. The hospice provider may teach family or
caregivers how to provide proper care

-- Palliative care, including pain management through medications

-- Administering other medications, as prescribed by the physician

-- Spiritual support from the chaplain and spiritual volunteers

-- Companionship, such as reading a book aloud, playing cards, talking
together or simply sitting with the person

-- Emotional support for the patient and family members

-- Visits from volunteers, to provide companionship for the patient and to
offer respite for the caregivers

While it can be hard for a physician to determine an individual's life expectancy, it is part of the application process. Eligibility for hospice is based on two conditions -- that a terminal illness exists and that a physician has indicated the life expectancy as six months or less.

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