Skip to Main Content (717) 697-3223

Myths and Misconceptions about Hospice

Last week we reviewed important facts for folks to be aware of concerning wills and estate planning. Today, we’ll continue our focus on end of life issues with information about hospice. In American society, death is a subject that we usually avoid discussing, even though it is an inevitable part of life. Some people are given time to prepare for death, usually due to a medical diagnosis. For these people, hospice services can provide valuable benefits for both the individual and the family during an emotionally and physically difficult time. A better understanding of what hospice is, and what it isn’t, can help alleviate the sense of dread that is often felt when this word is mentioned.

Myth: Hospice means an individual is “giving up” and that death is imminent.
Hospice care is designed to provide people who have approximately six months or less to live with the services and support they need to maximize the quality of that time. The goals of care change from trying to cure the disease or lengthen the lifespan, to achieving physical comfort and emotional acceptance.

Myth: Hospice is a place.
While there is one hospice in our area that is an actual building (the Carolyn Croxton Slane Residence in Harrisburg, operated by Hospice of Central PA), the word hospice actually means a philosophy of care.

Myth: Hospice is only for cancer patients.
Hospice staff also care for individuals with advanced stage dementia and chronic diseases such as heart, lung, kidney, and neuromuscular conditions. More than 60% of hospice clients have diagnoses other than cancer.

Myth: Hospice provides 24 hour care.
Hospice workers include nursing assistants, nurses, social workers, and chaplains. Their visits to provide care can range from once or twice a week to daily, depending on the individual’s needs. Visits are usually no more than a couple of hours in length.

Myth: Hospice means I’m going to be given additional drugs which will hasten my death.
Hospice workers desire to find the correct combination of medications in the lowest doses possible which will be effective in controlling an individual’s symptoms without undesirable side effects.

Myth: Hospice only provides care in a private home.
Hospice will provide care wherever a client calls home, whether it be a private home, personal care home, nursing home, apartment, or even under a bridge.

Myth: Hospice care is expensive.
If clients have Medicare or Medicaid, hospice benefits are covered 100%. For individuals with private insurance, hospice staff can review your plan to determine coverage levels and potential out-of-pocket costs.

Myth: A doctor is the only one who can make a decision about hospice.
Individuals and families can speak with hospice staff at any time to determine if services may be appropriate for their loved one. If your physician hasn’t mentioned hospice, do not be afraid to initiate the discussion, as a physician’s order is required before any care can be provided.

Myth: Hospice patients can’t go to the hospital or receive specialized treatments.
While hospice attempts to manage an individual’s symptoms in the “home” setting, sometimes a short term hospitalization may improve care. Treatments which are usually viewed as curative (such as chemotherapy or blood transfusions) may be appropriate for hospice clients if they are given to provide comfort.

These are only some of the myths that the professionals who provide hospice services are trying to overcome in their efforts to better serve individuals and families at the end of life. These myths were shared by Heartland and Homeland Hospices, two of a number of companies in our area that provide this type of service. Individuals have the right to choose any Hospice provider they desire. Heartland has heard from families many times that they wish they had started services sooner. Don’t let one of these myths result in a delay of additional support and care for your loved one.
Karen Kaslow, RN
Care Coordinator, Keystone Elder Law