Hospice Care FAQs
Hospice care offers care and support to patients facing a life-limiting illness and their families. This enables patients and families to share their remaining time together with dignity and meaning, while the patient is as free from pain as possible. The goal of Allegiance Hospice is to enhance the quality of life until the very end of life.
A common misconception is that hospice care is only for the last few weeks of a patient’s life. In truth, the sooner hospice care is chosen, the greater the impact on the patient’s quality of life and the lives of the family members. By law, the decision belongs to the patient. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of choosing hospice care. We are highly sensitive to these concerns and always available to discuss them patients and their families.
Patients and their families are eligible for hospice care as soon as a physician diagnoses a life-limiting illness. Allegiance Hospice services are available to Jackson County residents of all ages who have a life expectancy of six months or less. Each case is reviewed individually. While a majority of our patients have cancer, we routinely accept patients with end-stage congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Although a large percentage of hospice patients live in a personal residence, others live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or the Allegiance Hospice Home. Allegiance Hospice patients are cared for by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, home health aides, clergy, therapists and volunteers. In addition, Allegiance Hospice helps provide medications, supplies, equipment, hospital services and additional helpers in the home, when needed.
After we receive a physician’s referral, we will make an appointment to visit the patient. This initial meeting will be with an admissions nurse who will complete a detailed physical assessment of the patient’s condition. At least one caregiver (usually a designated family member) is required to be at this initial meeting. Additional family members are encouraged to come as well. The nurse will describe Allegiance Hospice services and answer any questions at that time. This meeting can be scheduled after business hours and on weekends.
There are rare times when we receive a referral from a patient who does not have a physician. In such cases we ask the patient to seek a physician through our Physician Finder service. In some cases, the Allegiance Hospice medical director may be available to act on the patient’s behalf.
The primary/referring physician is part of the Allegiance Hospice care team. Other team members will update and consult with this physician on a regular basis.
Hospice care is reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid, most private insurance policies, and preferred provider organizations (PPOs). Coverage is available as a benefit under Medicare Part A, if you elect to receive non-curative care and services for your life-limiting illness by waiving the standard Medicare and Medicaid benefits for traditional treatment of the illness. However, you may continue to access standard Medicare and Medicaid benefits for treatment of conditions unrelated to your hospice diagnosis.
The hospice Medicare benefit covers nursing care, social services, durable medical equipment (medical equipment used in the home to aid in a better quality of living), medications used for pain and symptom control, and consulting physicians fees related to the life-limiting illness and planned by the hospice interdisciplinary team. It also covers hospitalization, if it’s under the hospice plan of care. With the hospice Medicare benefit, hospice assumes full responsibility for treatment of your life-limiting illness and the interdisciplinary team’s plan of care. You are not billed for these goods and services, and there is no deductible or co-payment.
The hospice-specific benefit under Medicare and Medicaid provides comprehensive coverage for services that relate to the life-limiting illness and are outlined in the plan of care when the patient enters Allegiance Hospice care. This includes medication, medical supplies and equipment, and counseling services for patients and families. It also includes the services of physicians, nurses, social workers, home health aides, therapists, bereavement specialists and chaplains. Allegiance Hospice Home, however, assesses a room and board fee that is not covered by Medicare and Medicaid. The fee is determined when you enter the Hospice Home.
The goal of curative treatment is to cure a disease. Palliative treatment controls pain and symptoms without aiming to cure the disease. When you enter hospice care, you acknowledge that curative treatment is no longer appropriate and that palliative care will be provided for comfort.
If the condition improves and the disease seems to be in remission, a patient can be discharged from Allegiance Hospice care and return to aggressive therapy or continue with daily life. If the patient later needs to return to hospice care, Medicare and most private insurance will allow additional coverage for this purpose.
Hospice patients usually have a life expectancy of six months or less if the disease follows its normal course without curative treatment. A patient will not be discharged from hospice care, however, if he or she lives beyond that time frame and continues to meet the criteria for receiving hospice care.
If hospitalization is needed, the Allegiance Hospice interdisciplinary treatment team will coordinate the transition and maintain contact with the patient and family during the hospital stay.
Hospice nurses and doctors are knowledgeable about the latest medications and devices for pain and symptom relief. In addition, physical and occupational therapists help you to be as mobile and self-sufficient as possible. They are often joined by specialists trained in music therapy, art therapy, massage and diet counseling. Using a combination of medications, counseling and therapies, most Allegiance Hospice patients can be kept pain-free and comfortable.
Hospice has a strong bereavement program with a bereavement counselor who follows up with all hospice families. We maintain contact with families for 13 months following the death of a loved one. Regular phone contact, support groups and monthly newsletters are available for anyone choosing to participate. More intensive one-on-one counseling is available when hospice staff determine a need. Allegiance Hospice also offers free bereavement groups and support for anyone in the community experiencing the death of a family member, friend or co-worker.
Allegiance Hospice is grateful to have the help of approximately 120 volunteers. All volunteers participate in a training program to gain an understanding of our hospice program and find the right fit for their skills. Patient care is only one of many roles available to hospice volunteers.