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Hospice Care Overview

What is hospice care?

The word "hospice" means "a place of shelter." Today, the "place of shelter" is not so much a physical place. It is care that helps a person with a life-limiting (sometime called terminal) illness die with dignity and peace. Hospice care is end-of-life care given to support a person wherever they live. Comfort care is done to ease pain and other symptoms. The person and their family also get emotional and social support. The goal of hospice care is to help the person live to the fullest, even with a life-limiting illness.

A person usually has a life expectancy of less than 6 months to qualify for hospice care.

Research has shown that hospice care at home helps the entire family. Family members are encouraged to take an active role in giving supportive care to their loved one. In doing so, the family can feel involved in their loved one's care. And the person is surrounded by family and friends.

Woman lying in bed, woman sitting next to bed.

Where hospice care is done

Many people get hospice care at home. But hospice care can also take place in any setting, such as:

  • Hospital-based hospice. Most hospitals have a hospice program to give people with life-limiting illness access to support services and other healthcare providers. Some hospitals even have a designated hospice unit. Often these units give close medical and emotional support to people who need a lot of symptom management.

  • Long-term care facility. Many nursing homes and long-term care homes have hospice units with trained staff. These units are for people who don't have a caregiver at home. Or for people who may need medical services that can't be done at home.

  • Independent hospices. Some home care hospices are run as an independent business. Some also have an inpatient care facility. The inpatient facility can provide people hospice services when there is no caregiver at home. Or if the person needs medical services that can't be done at home.

  • Assisted living facility. Many people live in personal care homes or assisted living apartments. Hospice care services can be given in this home setting when they need end-of-life care.

What services does hospice care provide?

Hospice services are like home healthcare services. Plus they also include:

  • Medical care. This includes a hospice healthcare provider as part of your loved one's comfort care team. Some people choose to keep their regular healthcare provider as well. Some people choose to turn their supportive care over to their healthcare provider or nurse practitioner on the hospice team.

  • Visiting nurse care. This includes scheduled visits from a nurse to help with symptom control and provide education about the dying process.

  • 24-hour support. You'll have access to an on-call nurse and healthcare provider 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for questions and support. Sometimes visits are needed in the evenings or on weekends if your loved one's condition changes or you need support.

  • Spiritual and social services

  • Volunteer services

  • Family grief support. This is offered both before and after your loved one's death

It's important to check your loved one's insurance coverage for hospice benefits. Their healthcare provider can also help you learn about hospice coverage. If your loved one chooses hospice care, they're deciding to receive comfort care versus care to cure an illness. Your loved one's healthcare provider must certify them as having a life expectancy of less than 6 months. Medicare covers hospice care with some limitations. For example, once you have chosen hospice care, Medicare doesn't cover room and board at an assisted living or long-term facility, or care that's aimed at curing your loved one's illness. Medicare will cover short-term inpatient care, like at a hospital or care facility, to help manage symptoms. Or for respite care, which is up to 5 days at a time in an inpatient facility so you can get some rest. The Medicare website has more information on hospice coverage. Private insurance and other Medicare health plans (like Medicare Advantage) also have coverage. But call your plan to find out what's covered.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Melinda Murray Ratini DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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