Hospice providers offer end-of-life, non-curative care that is provided by a team of medical professionals. Typically, they include doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers, and counselors or clergy who work together, providing psychological, medical, and spiritual support. The goal is to help a terminally ill patient maintain as much comfort, peace, and dignity as possible while addressing symptoms of disease and minimizing pain, discomfort, and anxiety.
Medical claims data showed there were more than 4,600 Medicare-certified hospice providers across the country in 2018. In any given area, there are usually at least several options, and they may be for-profit, non-profit, or government-owned. Before choosing one, it’s important to research all your options. By following these tips, you’re likely to find a good quality hospice provider.
The patient’s doctor will likely have a list of providers available in the area and may also be familiar enough to have had some experiences with them to share. Nurses and other trusted healthcare professionals can be a great source too. Of course, if you know someone personally who has experience with hospice, that can be helpful as well. Once you have a list of possibilities, you can narrow it down further by looking into the more detailed factors.
Prioritize Nurse Location
Hospices usually don’t have inpatient facilities, which means most patients receive care through an independent agency. The location of the agency doesn’t matter, but the location of its nurses does. If a nurse is taking care of patients in a very large geographical area, he or she could be hours away when a crisis occurs. When you do your initial search, you might type in “hospice of Virginia,” but you’ll want to be sure the agencies you’re considering have on-call nurses who actually live in your area. The last thing you’d want to have happen is to have an emergency in the middle of the night and have to wait two or three hours for help.
Staff to Patient Ratios and Qualifications
Be sure to check the staff-to-patient ratios of each provider and find out how they compare, including the number of staff members assigned to each patient per day or per shift. Ask what qualifications are required of each agency’s volunteers, aides, and nurses.
The Level of Care
There are four distinct levels of hospice care. One person can experience all levels in only a week or 10 days, while another might have one level of care throughout the duration of their hospice care. Ask the hospice which they provide. Level one is basic routine home care and might include part-time skilled nursing services, physical therapy, supplies, and social services. Level two is continuous home care provided during times of crisis. Level three is inpatient care and may be provided when short-term symptoms become so severe it’s not possible to get adequate care at home. Level four is respite care and is often used when the patient doesn’t qualify for continuous or inpatient care, but family or another primary source of care is unable to meet their loved one’s needs. In this case, it may be temporarily provided on an inpatient basis.
The Length of Time the Hospice Has Been Operating
The longer the hospice has been actively operating, the better. Providers that have been established in your area will be more experienced and have smoother business operations.
While you can get a lot of information over the phone or email, once you’ve narrowed down your list of options, you’ll want to have in-person meetings to get a general idea of what the caregivers are like. It’s important to be sure that the patient is cared for by people he or she can get along with before making any commitment.