Separating fact from fiction with hospice care

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Have you ever thought about how you want to die or where you want to die?  It's something most people don't want to consider, but will likely need at some point.  We're talking about hospices.

After nearly 40 years of marriage, Judy Lucas found out she was losing the man she loved.

"You just had that moment where you stood there and cried," she said.

Her husband George was diagnosed with fatal pancreatic cancer.  When chemo and other harsh treatments stopped working, he chose hospice care.

"Their big role is the comfort of the patient," Judy explained.

Dr. Debra Blue, medical director of Hospice of Wake County, says many misunderstand what hospice really is.

"There's still a fair number of people who think all we manage is cancer," she said.

Only 35 percent of Dr. Blue's hospice patients have cancer.  She also cares for people with a variety of conditions like heart and kidney problems.

Another myth is that hospice is expensive.  A 2007 Duke University study found people who die under hospice care cost the Medicare system $2,300 less than people who don't use hospice.

The next myth: hospice is only for the last few days of life. 

"I think waiting too long is the biggest mistake that I see," said Blue.

She says 30 percent of hospice patients die in the first week.  Blue believes starting it sooner can help patients take advantage of pain and symptom management for longer. 

The final myth: hospice equals an earlier death. 

Blue says the fact is, ""The average person on hospice lives roughly 30 days longer."

Hospice helped Judy say goodbye to George.  She says because of it, the last days were peaceful for him and her.

"If you get the patient comfortable, the family is going to be comfortable," she said.

Additional Information On Hospice:

HOSPICE HISTORY: The British physician Dr. Cicely Saunders began the modern hospice movement in the 1960's by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice near London, which was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to care for the dying. In 1974 in New Haven, Connecticut the first hospice in the United States was established and now more than 4,700 hospice programs exist in the United States alone. In 2007 hospice programs cared for almost 1.4 million people in the United States, 965,000 of which were enrolled in Medicare. (Source:

PROCESS: Before care is provided, hospice staff meets with the patient's personal physician and a hospice physician to discuss patient history, current physical symptoms, and life expectancy. They then meet with the patient and their family to discuss the services provided, pain and comfort levels, support systems, financial and insurance resources, medications and equipment needs. The patient must have a doctor's referral to enter into hospice. Medicare covers all services, medications, and equipment related to the illness for patients with a prognosis of 6 months or less. (Source:

BENEFITS OF HOSPICE CARE: The use of hospice care can offer benefits to not only patients but their family members and loved ones as well.


  1. For terminally ill patients, the decision to receive hospice or palliative care instead of continued curative treatment can help them avoid the dangers of over-treatment. 
  2. Hospice can reduce anxiety in the terminally ill patients as well as their family by helping them achieve some level of acceptance. 
  3. Other than the focus on the physical health and comfort of the patients, hospice also focuses on the emotional needs and spiritual well-being of patients and their families.
  4. In-home care from a hospice IDT often means the patient receives greater monitoring than he or she would in a hospital. (Source:


HELP FOR FAMILY MEMBERS:  The death of a loved one can be a difficult time and another benefit of hospice care is the support offered to family members after a patient has died. The bereavement support is when the hospice care team works with surviving family members to help them through the grieving process. This can include counselor visits to the family during the first year, support groups, and phone calls or letter contact with the family. (Source:

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