QUESTION: A family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and while not needed at this particular time, I am beginning to think about hospice services. When looking into this type of care, what should I consider when selecting a hospice provider?

ANSWER: Most Americans know very little about hospice care. They aren’t aware that it provides pain relief for the terminally ill, it is an option for end-of-life care and that Medicare covers most of the cost.

When selecting a hospice provider, you should learn all you can about their particular program. Ask exactly what services they have the ability to provide, not only to the patient but also what kind of support is available to the primary caregiver and other family members.

Ask what roles the patient’s physician and the hospice physician take in the care plan and day-to-day care. Inquire about the role of hospice volunteers and determine how emotional and spiritual needs are met.

You certainly want to know how the hospice keeps the patient comfortable and how the services are provided after hours, on weekends and in emergency cases. Who do you call and what response time can be expected?

If the patient is receiving hospice services at home but conditions require a move to an assisted care or long-term facility, can this hospice continue its services at the facility of your choice?

Payment for these services is certainly a concern. Medicare, private insurance and some new long-term care policies cover most hospice services.

To be eligible for Medicare coverage, the patient must have Medicare Part A coverage. The patient’s doctor and the hospice medical director must certify that the patient is terminally ill. The patient must sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of standard Medicare benefits for the terminal illness, and the care must be provided by a Medicare-certified hospice provider.

For coverage provided under private insurance and long-term care policies, you should check with your insurer to determine eligibility requirements.

Hospice care is provided through a team effort. It supplements the caregiving provided by families and other loved ones. The team consists of a medical director, an attending physician, registered nurse, social worker, chaplain, home health aide and volunteers.

The medical director certifies the attending physician’s prognosis and leads the team in developing a plan of care. The patient’s primary-care physician remains as the patient’s attending physician. The registered nurse makes regularly scheduled visits, coordinates the care plan and teaches the family about proper patient care.

The social worker assesses the needs of both patient and family and assists with coping and anxiety. The home health aide provides the direct personal care.

Spiritual support is provided by the chaplain, who works with the family’s choice of a clergy. He or she is also available to assist with funeral and memorial preparations.

Volunteers provide friendly visits, respite to caregivers and general emotional support.

When the number of one’s days is limited, hospice emphasizes the quality of life. It is a special way of caring for both the terminally ill patient and their family. Hospice care cannot add days to life but can add life to the remaining days.


Saturday, 2 to 4 p.m.: “Stars and Stripes Social” with live entertainment, ice cream treats and lots of fun at Simi Valley Senior Center, 3900 Avenida Simi in Simi Valley. Call 583-6363 to reserve your spot.

July 19, 5:10 p.m.: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” with baseball fans coming out and joining the fun for Dodger Game Day against the Chicago White Sox at the Goebel Stadium. Enjoy the game on a 70-inch television in comfortable seating while enjoying Dodger Dogs, popcorn, peanuts and more. Tickets are $5 and available at the Goebel front desk for seniors age 50 and older. Doors open at 4:45 p.m. 

July 19, 1:30 to 3 p.m.: Seminar — “Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an In-Home Care Agency” — at Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive in Westlake Village. For information, call the advocate’s office at 495-6250.

July 22, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Master Gardeners seminar — “Selecting & Caring for Garden Tools” — at Goebel Adult Community Center. Learn how to effectively care for your garden tools. Learn to master techniques for extending the life and appearance of your favorite garden tools and how to select the best tool for the correct gardening task.  Call 381-2744 to reserve a space.

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