With all of the information about health care reform in the news lately, many people have been talking about end of life issues. Some people feared that the goal was to “Kill Granny” or “pull the plug” when one of the health care proposals included the option of insurance coverage for a conversation between the doctor and patient about living wills and the option of hospice care. Given this strong reaction, it is apparent that there is much emotion about this topic and that there is a need for information about what palliative care and hospice is all about. November was National Hospice Month, which offered a good opportunity to learn more about this topic.

First it must be understood that the terms palliative care and/or hospice care are not the same as euthanasia. Palliative care does not mean that a doctor just gives up on a person and stops providing medical treatment. Palliative care is a treatment option for people who decide that they do not want to pursue aggressive medical treatment to cure a condition. For example, a person may decide to stop chemotherapy if it is not curing their cancer and if the side effects are outweighing the benefits. The goal of palliative care is to maximize comfort. The doctor will provide medical care with the focus on helping a person to feel as good as he or she can and have a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Hospice is an insurance benefit that a person may choose when he or she wants palliative care. In order to be eligible for hospice, a person must have a terminal illness and the person’s doctor certifies that the person’s life expectancy is six months or less, if the disease runs its normal course. Hospice services may be provided in the home, in an assisted living facility, in a skilled nursing facility or in a hospital setting.

The philosophy of hospice is that dying is a natural process and the goal is to preserve a person’s dignity and ability to direct his or her own care. Hospice care is provided by a team of professionals that strives to meet all of the medical, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual needs of the patient and their caregivers. The team consists of physicians, nurses, social workers, home health aides, spiritual coordinators, volunteers and bereavement counselors. The patient and his/her caregivers develop an individualized care plan that will meet his or her needs and desires. The hospice team acts as a resource for education and support to the person’s caregivers, so that the caregivers can provide the help the patient needs.

It cannot be stressed enough that the goal of hospice and palliative care is to promote comfort and quality of life. If you would like more information about the option of hospice care, please feel free to call Nashoba Nursing Service & Hospice, a program under the auspices of Nashoba Associated Boards of Health. The hospice professionals will be glad to answer your questions and provide further information. They can be reached at 978-425-6675.