Printed in the Courier Post on Friday November 29, 2014
Written by Mary Ann Boccolini, Samaritan President/CEO
No one likes to think about death and dying, much less plan for it. But as more people are learning, hospice care can ease suffering and increase comfort toward the end of life, for both patient and family.
An estimated 1.5 million people received hospice services in 2012 — a 20 percent jump in just four years, reports the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Accordingly, the number of hospices is rising, too — from 4,850 in 2008 to more than 5,500 today.
Yet differences between providers can be significant, experts note. In addition, many people don’t realize they’re eligible for hospice care early — up to six months before death, for Medicare recipients. This comforting care can even extend life, research shows.
So how can patients and families know which hospice to choose and when to start services?
Last month, ConsumerReports.org posted some excellent guidelines. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides additional recommendations on its website, nhpco.org.
And the person’s physician can help determine when he or she will qualify.
To mark National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, I’m sharing some of this important advice.
Here’s what Consumer Reports says to look for:
- Not-for-profit status. More than half of U.S. hospice programs are for-profit, according to Medicare, and recent reports have revealed problems at some of those programs.
- Twenty or more years of experience.
- Hospice-certified nurses and doctors on staff and available 24/7.
- Palliative-care consultants who can alleviate symptoms, even if the person isn’t ready for hospice yet.
- An in-patient unit, where patients can receive care if symptoms can’t be managed at home.
- Ability to provide care in nursing homes and assisted living residences.
- Medicare approval. This enables Medicare to pay for services, including equipment and home health aides as needed, plus counseling and grief support for the patient and family.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization suggests that families also ask about the results of any state or federal reviews, whether the program is nationally accredited, the number of patients assigned to each staff member, and a variety of other quality indicators. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s full set of recommendations is available here.
As the population continues to age, more of us will need to make these critical decisions for our loved ones and ourselves.
Finding the right hospice is well worth the effort. Good hospice care can provide pain relief, comfort, peace and support during the most difficult times, for both patients and their families.
Mary Ann Boccolini is president and CEO of Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, based in Marlton. For more information, visit http://www.samaritannj.org.