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What Hospice Is - and Is Not

by Alexander Nesbitt, MD


Hospice is a model of care that focuses on providing physical and emotional comfort to people in the last stages of incurable disease, and on supporting their families, during the end-of-life period.

Several core ideas form the basis of the hospice philosophy, including:

  • Dying is a normal and expected part of living.
  • Hospice care is person-centered rather than disease-centered, in that its goal is to relieve pain and other distressing symptoms (as opposed to treat or cure disease) that may be experienced during the end-of-life period.
  • Hospice care is family-centered (meaning it addresses the person’s and family’s physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs).
  • Hospice care seeks to help the person experience peace, comfort and dignity.

What Hospice Is - and Is Not

Hospice provides comfort-directed care that will make the person more comfortable but will not prolong life, in addition to services such as counseling, respite care, and bereavement care (support for the family after the person’s death). Hospice care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, home health aides, counselors, social workers, religious or spiritual leaders, and volunteers. Many people choose to receive hospice care in their homes, but it can also be provided in settings such as long-term care facilities and hospice facilities. Hospice services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Many people think that accepting hospice care is “giving up,” but in fact, hospice care does not hasten death. It simply seeks to improve quality of life during the end-of-life period. It is important to understand that entering a hospice program does not mean the person has to stay—hospice services can be discontinued at any time.

Choosing a Hospice

Before your loved one needs hospice services, you may want to research hospice providers in your community. Your doctor or hospital discharge planner can help you find a hospice program in your area. Both the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization as well as the National Association for Home Care & Hospice offer hospice locator tools on their websites.

Paying For Hospice

Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid (in most states), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and most private insurance plans. Donations, community contributions, and memorial funds allow many hospice providers to offer services at a reduced cost or no cost to families in financial need

For decades, hospice care at UPMC Susquehanna has worked to improve the quality of life for our patients while helping them and their families live life to the fullest. Experts such as Alexander Nesbitt, MD, board certified in hospice and palliative medicine, geriatrics, and family medicine, are here to help. For more information, call 570-320-7680.