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The final stages of a terminal illness are devastating to both patients and caregivers. According to the Hospice Foundation of America, one in three people in the United States choose hospice care when they are dying. Hospice provides support to patients and their families as they navigate the transition toward death. The goal is to improve the quality of a patient’s last weeks, days, and hours by offering comfort, dignity, and pain management.
To qualify, the person must no longer be responding to curative treatment options and have a life expectancy of approximately six months or less. Most hospice care takes place in the patient’s home, the home of a loved one, or in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Beyond the physical care of the dying, hospice offers a variety of services including bereavement counseling to families before and after a patient's death. Volunteers will also help with household chores to provide caregivers with a much-needed respite.
There are more than 4,500 hospice programs in the United States. The majority are certified to provide care under the Medicare benefit, and, in 41 states, the Medicaid benefit. This benefit covers all services, medications, and equipment related to the illness. If the patient is not covered by Medicare or any other health insurance, some hospices have funds from foundations and memorial gifts available.