November is national hospice month

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

Commentary by J. Donald Schumacher

Hospice isn’t a place. It’s a type of care that focuses on living. It’s about living as fully as possible, up until the end of life.

November is National Hospice Month. In communities like ours across the country, hospices are honoring patients and families coping with life-limiting illness. Hospices are recognizing the professionals and volunteers who provide high quality care to those who need it most. National Hospice Month also provides an opportunity to promote important discussions with our loved ones and our health care providers about the care we would want at the end of life.

Hospice offers the services and support that Americans want when coping with life-limiting illness. Considered to be the model for high-quality, compassionate care at the end of life, hospice care involves a team-oriented approach to care that includes expert medical care, pain-and-symptom management, and emotional and spiritual support. All care is expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.

Based on current trends, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization projects that more than one million U.S. patients will receive hospice care this year.

But for every person that receives hospice, there is another that would benefit from the services hospice offers but doesn’t receive this special care. And while hospice usage is growing, 36 percent of hospice patients will receive care for seven days or less-not enough time to benefit fully from the wide-range of services that hospice offers.

One of the best ways to make sure you and your loved ones benefit fully from hospice, should you ever need this care, is to talk about it before it becomes an issue.

We plan for weddings, the birth of a child, college and retirement. We even spend months planning for vacations. But rarely, if ever, do we plan for what we would want in the final phase of our lives.

It’s not that Americans don’t make end-of-life decisions. We write wills, we purchase life insurance, and we give consent to organ donation. Many people will even purchase a cemetery plot years before it is ever needed. But we don’t prepare or plan for the actual process of dying.

Far too many people wait until they are in the midst of a health care crisis before thinking about what options are available or what care they or their loved ones would have wanted. Your local hospice can help you with information about care options and choices that will ensure you live as fully as possible, throughout your entire life.

For more information, visit www.hospiceinfo.org or call NHPCO’s national Helpline at 1-800-658-8898. For local information, contact Nadine Coddington at Comfort Care Hospice, telephone 334-289-2106.

J. Donald Schumacher, Psy.D., is president and CEO of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.