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Letter to the Editor: What hospice care means for patients

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Dear editor,

I’m often asked about my work in hospice, which many people misunderstand if they’re aware of it at all.

Like my colleagues, I’m passionate about my work, and we continuously try to help educate patients, families and other health care professionals about the benefits of hospice.

Recently, this discussion was brought to the forefront by the decision of former President Jimmy Carter to enter hospice. Our thoughts are with him and his family, and we would like to help our community better understand what entering hospice care means.

Hospice is comprehensive team-based care focused on patient and family well-being. A team of health care professionals and trained volunteers works together to address symptom control, pain management, and provide emotional and spiritual support. The care plan for each patient is expressly tailored to their needs and wishes. Hospice can be provided where the patient lives with regular visits from the hospice team members and on-call 24-hour access to support.

Put simply, hospice focuses on caring, not curing. The goal is to make the time a patient has left as comfortable and meaningful as possible.

For some patients and families, that may end the taxing cycle of repeated, unwanted hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Others may want an improved quality of life because aggressive treatments are no longer working, or the symptoms of their disease are getting harder to manage.

Patients and families often say they wished they’d started hospice earlier, and research studies back that up. Hospice has been found to provide the greatest benefit and end-of-life patient satisfaction the earlier it is initiated.

While patients are eligible for hospice when it is expected they have six months or less to live, no one actually knows how you will live. Patients can continue to receive hospice as long as they meet the Medicare program’s requirements.

Hospice is not giving up. It doesn’t hasten death and it’s not for the last few days of life. As a society, we are so hesitant to talk about the end of life, but it’s such an important conversation. I encourage every family to discuss their needs and wishes in advance. Your wishes can only be honored if they are known.

—Taynia Kisner, Compassus


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