Hearing about a friend or family member needing to receive hospice care might conjure feelings of doom and gloom. That’s not an unusual reaction. But that response often stems from a lack of understanding of all that hospice can offer patients and their families.
“I always tell people that when it comes to hospice, the more you know, the less scary it is,” explains Diana Lovellette, director of hospice at Doylestown Health Hospice.
How it Works
Patients are candidates for hospice if they have a terminal illness and no longer want to pursue aggressive treatment and instead have goals of comfort and quality of life. Typically, the patient receives a life expectancy of six months or less from the physician.
“Sometimes we have a hospice patient whose life expectancy becomes a lot longer than that,” Diana elaborates. “We’ve had people on hospice for well over six months as they don’t decline as quickly as expected.”
This type of treatment requires providers who are highly skilled in end-of-life care. The interdisciplinary staff of Doylestown Health Hospice includes physicians, registered nurses, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, bereavement counselors and volunteers who work together managing all aspects of patient care. Doylestown Hospice is also fortunate to have a several team members certified in hospice and palliative care.
Diana added that staff members consider themselves teachers explaining to families what they need to know, what to expect next, as well as what is normal and what isn’t. The hospice staff also manages patients’ medicines and supplies.
But mostly, Diana adds, the team works hard to ensure only the best care for each of its patients. “We treat patients like family,” she says in her warm Southern accent.
Common Misconceptions vs. Realities
Part of the close working relationship with patients and families involves dispelling some of the myths of hospice care. One of the biggest misconceptions is that patients who are on hospice will pass away quicker than they would otherwise. “Actually with some diagnoses, people can live longer on hospice than without it because their symptoms are better managed and their quality of life is improved,” says Diana.
Primary Care Still OK
One other myth that requires debunking is that patients on hospice need to stop seeing their primary care provider. “That’s not true. Once someone is on hospice, we’re like the on-call doctor and 9-1-1. Patients don’t have to go to the doctor or hospital anymore, unless they want to,” she explains.
Continue with Medications
Another falsehood that many people believe is that patients have to discontinue the medicines they’re taking when in hospice. In fact, the opposite is true. As long as patients are more comfortable taking the medicines they’re used to taking, they can continue to do so. “It’s really about ensuring comfort measures as well as managing symptoms,” says Diana.
Pain management is a primary goal of hospice care. Diana clarifies that pain medications are usually started gradually to find the right combination but most patients have their pain managed within the first 24 to 48 hours of admission.
Hospice Care Not Only at Home
Another myth about hospice is that patients have to be homebound to receive hospice care. While it’s true that most hospice takes place in patient homes, patients can leave whenever they feel up to it. “Even if they’re able to go to the park, they can still receive hospice care,” she says. “I’ve had people go to work — who’ve felt good enough to do that and still receive hospice.”
About 75 percent of the patients who undergo hospice care with Doylestown Health are at home. Most of the remaining patients are cared for by DH hospice staff at a long-term care or other facility, with a small percentage receiving hospice care at the hospital.
For the Family, Too
While hospice care is tightly focused on the patient, some people don’t realize the hospice team is also concerned with caregivers’ and families’ well-being. Doylestown Health Hospice provides respite care to caregivers. If a family member needs to run errands or attend appointments, volunteers are there to fill in and sit with the patient.
Also, when the patient passes away, the caregivers can receive bereavement services for up to 13 months. This involves hospice staff consistently communicating with caregivers and providing counseling, home visits and connecting them to community resources.
Finally, considering hospice care should not be daunting. Doylestown Health Hospice staff is happy to answer questions at any time, asserts Diana. “We meet people wherever they are,” she says. “All they have to do is call.”
Visit Doylestown Health Hospice for more information or call 215.345.2200.
About Doylestown Health Hospice
When a patient's life expectancy is six months or less, comfort care options may be needed. Doylestown Health Hospice provides expert pain management, symptom-control techniques, caregiver relief, psychosocial and spiritual support, bereavement support, medical therapies and palliative care. Our compassionate approach to end-of-life care includes physician services, registered nurses, a chaplain, a social worker, home health aides, volunteers, and bereavement counselors who work together to help the entire family during these very difficult times.