November is nationally recognized as Hospice and Palliative Care Month.

November is nationally recognized as Hospice and Palliative Care Month.

When most people hear the word “Hospice”, the first thoughts that enter their mind are: “Oh, my gosh, how sad!” or “How scary!”. Those things are sometimes true. Death is scary and it can also be sad. Many people may not realize what exactly hospice is and how a person and family on hospice services actually benefits from the services.

So, what is hospice? WebMd definition: “Hospice care provides medical services, emotional support, and spiritual resources for people who are in the last stages of a serious illness such as cancer or heart failure.” This, although true, does not truly define what I believe hospice to be. You can read that in literature and on most hospice websites, but there is so much more to it.

Hospice does not always mean you are on your “death bed” or you have 2 weeks left to live. This stigma, although slowly fading, casts a dark cloud over what hospice agencies are trying to give patients and their families. Once someone has been diagnosed as terminal and does not wish to pursue aggressive treatment, they may qualify for hospice. It certainly is not “giving up” on life, but as an oncologist recently told one of our patient’s, “Live every day as if it were Christmas”. She is doing just that.

Major goals are to reduce suffering and improve quality of life for patients and families. “Quality over quantity”, many say. Hospice is a team effort and consists of the patient, family, physician, nurses, home health aides, social worker, chaplain, bereavement services, pharmacist and volunteer services. We collaborate to address every physical, mental or spiritual needs our patient may have. While pain is usually prevalent, anxiety, fear, nausea or infections also are our priority. The hospice team works diligently to provide comfort and alleviate any symptom that may arise.

Different diagnoses qualifying a person for hospice include: cancer, heart failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia, kidney failure, COPD, liver failure, stroke and many other conditions. Medicare and Medicaid cover 100% of hospice services. Most agencies accept private insurance for hospice. A person can be on hospice for many months, if they qualify. Several studies have shown that patients have lived longer with hospice, and with a better quality of life.

I like to think that birth and death can be synonymous. When a newborn enters this life, it is usually a happy, emotional and loving time surrounded by family. When a person is passing away, he or she deserves for it to be pain free and surrounded by love and family.

“We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey.” – Ann Richardson

Michelle Aguilera is the administrator of Hospice of Ballinger and Ballinger Home Health and a member of the Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County. Members meet on the first Thursday of the first full week of the month.