What is Hospice?

Hospice means a philosophy of palliative (comfort) care for individuals and families during the process of dying and bereavement. Hospice is life affirming and strengthens the individual’s role in making informed decisions about care.  Hospice philosophy stresses the delivery of services in the least restrictive setting possible and with the least amount of technology necessary by volunteers and professionals who are trained to help individuals with the physical, social, psychological, spiritual and emotional needs related to terminal illness.

Since the opening of the first hospice in the United States in 1974, the hospice movement has grown as a response to the limitations of our existing health care system. Rather than having persons die in restrictive acute care facilities oriented to diagnosis, treatment and cure, hospice provides the option for individuals facing incurable illness to live their lives in dignity, in the companionship of the option for individuals facing incurable illness to live their lives in dignity, in the companionship of friends and friends and family, often in the comfort of their own homes.

There are many hospices in Maine providing services such as pain and symptom management, respite care, psychosocial support, spiritual support, transportation, education and bereavement support. These hospices are community-based volunteer programs and Medicare-certified programs providing services through a structured network of trained volunteers, clergy, nurses, therapists and counselors working in cooperation with the individual’s primary physician.

Regardless of how a hospice program is structured or organized, whether it is a division of a home health agency, hospital-based, or community-based, all programs emphasize the use of trained volunteers as well as professionals in meeting individual and family needs.

Here are some ways of distinguishing hospice care from traditional health care:

  • Hospice is a unique philosophy of care for people, not just a provider of services.
  • Hospice care is for the family, as well as for the individual who is ill.
  • Hospice provides palliative care (symptom control and pain management), not intensive, curative care.
  • Hospice meets more than just the medical needs of individuals. It also meets emotional, spiritual, and psychosocial needs of individuals and families.
  • Hospice services are provided through an interdisciplinary team of professionals and volunteers, recognizing that no one individual can meet all needs.
  • Hospice emphasizes the use of trained volunteers as key tem members in meeting support needs.
  • Hospice provides a continuity of care across settings. That is, hospice provides services to individuals whether they are in a hospital, at a nursing home or at home.
  • Hospice provides bereavement support to families. Comfort, care and support when it is needed most.

The first thing to know about hospice is that it is not a place. The term “hospice” is that it is not a place. The term “hospice” refers to a kind of care given to people who have only a few weeks or months to live.

Hospice care is based on a philosophy that emphasizes quality of life. It affirms the individual’s role in making choices about his or her care. It offers the options for individuals facing incurable illness to live their lives in dignity, in the company of friends and family. Hospice care is delivered through a range of services for individuals and families during the death and bereavement process.

Hospice encourages the delivery of services in the least restrictive setting. In most cases, hospice care is provided in the home by family and friends with support from health care professionals and volunteers. Where this is not possible, hospice services are available in other ways and other environments (hospice volunteer visits to an acute care facility, for example).

A circle of family and friends.

Hospice is meant to help meet the physical, social, psychological, spiritual, and emotional needs of individuals and families during a very difficult time.

Hospice medical services are delivered by a team of health care professionals — working with the individual’s primary physician. This includes palliative care (symptom control and pain management) rather than intensive curative care.

Non-medical services are provided by a network of hospice volunteers. These are neighbors helping neighbors, people who can assist in almost any way the individual or family needs.

Services for individuals and families during the process of dying and bereavement

Volunteers may typically provide: transportation to and from medical appointments — respite care to allow family members a brief break from care giving roles — meal preparation — and other support services.

The interdisciplinary team of professionals and volunteers may also provide less tangible services such as emotional and spiritual support as needed or requested.

Hospice is a care option available here in Maine. If you would like to learn more, or have need of hospice services, please talk to your physician or call the Maine Hospice Council at 1-800-438- 5963.