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Report: Untapped Benefits from Hospice Services

Nearly three in four Medicare recipients received fewer than 90 days of hospice care, according to a report. (maxlkt/Pixabay)
Nearly three in four Medicare recipients received fewer than 90 days of hospice care, according to a report. (maxlkt/Pixabay)
October 20, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – For many, entering hospice care often is viewed as an indication of imminent death, but the hospice industry is trying to help people understand that its benefits can begin well before someone is in dire health.

Hospice care can provide pain management, as well as emotional and spiritual support, tailored to a patient's needs. But a new report says in 2015, more than 40 percent of Medicare patients on hospice received just 14 days of care or less.

Edo Banach, president, and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, says hospice works not only in a person's final days but over the last months of their life.

"You really have an ability to begin to make some changes that are going to make people more comfortable," he says. "Less than that, you're really doing the best you can do, but you're not having as much of an impact on an individual's life, and making their life as comfortable as it could be."

Banach explains that it takes time for a hospice team to work with patients on what their wishes are - and to work with families, putting a plan in place for medications, counseling and bereavement services. The report found that 46 percent of Medicare recipients received at least one day of hospice care at the time of death, but nearly three in four received less than 90 days of care.

Banach says new strategies are needed to get more people the help they need when dealing with the physical and mental symptoms that families can struggle with at the end of life. He notes the interdisciplinary hospice model provides not only medical care but psycho-social care, which could become even more important as the nation grapples with mass shootings and natural disasters.

"And in this time when we're dealing with wildfires, and we're dealing with hurricanes, and we're dealing with opioid crises, I do want to think about how a model that provides for all those other services and provides bereavement services might have a really strong role to play in the future of healthcare in this country," he explains.

The report found that not all Americans benefit from hospice care equally. Banach notes African-American families, in particular, continue to be underserved, both in terms of the number of care-days and the number of patients receiving care.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT