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As provided by The National Hospice Organization (item #711135) Copyright 1994.


The term 'hospice' (from the same linguistic root as 'hospitality') can be traced back to early Western Civilization when it was used to describe a place of shelter and rest for weary or sick travelers on long journeys. The term was first applied to specialized care for dying patients in 1967, at St. Christopher's Hospice in a residential suburb of London. Today, the term 'hospice' refers to a steadily growing concept of humane and compassionate care which can be implemented in a variety of settings -- in patients' homes, in hospitals, or in freestanding inpatient facilities.

The Hospice Philosophy

Hospice is a special kind of care designed to provide sensitivity and support for people in the final phase of a terminal illness. Hospice care seeks to enable patients to carry on an alert, pain-free life and to manage other symptoms so that their last days may be spent with dignity and quality at home or in a home-like setting.

How Hospice Works

Hospice services are available to persons who can no longer benefit from curative treatment; the typical hospice patient has a life expectancy of six months or less. Most receive care at home. Services are provided by a team of trained professionals - physicians, nurses, counselors, therapists, aides, and volunteers - who provide medical care and support services not only to the patient, but to the entire family. The patient is usually referred to hospice by the primary physician. Referrals can also be made by family members, friends, clergy, or health professionals.

(The services described may also be provided by Hospice in a nursing home. How a nursing home accesses Hospice differs from facility to facility. Ask the social worker or any member of the nursing staff to find out more about how to have Hospice help.)

How Hospice Differs from Other Types of Healthcare

  • Hospice offers palliative, rather than curative, treatment. Under the direction of a physician, hospice uses sophisticated methods of pain and symptom control that enable the patient to live as fully and comfortably as possible.
  • Hospice treats the person, not the disease. The interdisciplinary hospice team is made up of professionals who address the medical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of the patient and family.
  • Hospice emphasizes quality, rather than length of life. Hospice neither hastens nor postpones death: it affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. The hospice movement stresses human values that go beyond the physical needs of the patient.
  • Hospice considers the entire family, not just the patient, the 'unit of care.' Patients and families are included in the decision-making process, and bereavement counseling is provided to the family after the death of their loved one.
  • Hospice offers help and support to the patient and family on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week basis. For hospice patients and their families, help is just a phone call away. Patients routinely receive periodic in-home services of a nurse, home health aide, social worker, volunteer, and other members of the hospice interdisciplinary team.

Who Pays for Hospice Care?

Studies have shown hospice care to be no more costly - and frequently less expensive - than conventional care during the last six months of life. This is because less high-cost technology is used, and family, friends, and volunteers provide much of the day-to-day patient care at home.

Hospice care is a covered benefit under most private insurance plans. In addition, hospice is a covered benefit, and in some states is a covered Medicaid benefit.

The Hospice Benefit Covers:

  • Nursing services on an intermittent basis
  • Physician services
  • Drugs, including outpatient drugs for pain relief and symptom management
  • Physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy
  • Home health aide and homemaker services
  • Medical supplies and appliances
  • Short-term inpatient care, including respite care
  • Medical social services
  • Spiritual, dietary, and other counseling
  • Continuous care during periods of crisis
  • Trained volunteers
  • Bereavement services

Although hospice services are often covered by insurance, such payments rarely cover the full cost of care. Hospices must therefore rely to a great extent on grants and community support.

While each hospice has its own policies concerning payment for care, it is a principle of hospice to offer services based upon need, rather than the ability to pay.

For More Information

For more information about hospice or for referral to a hospice program operating in your area, call NHO's toll-free Hospice Helpline at 800-658-8898.

Or contact NHO's offices at:

1901 N. Moore St., Suite 901
Arlington, VA 22209

Or Contact Hospice at:

Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod
765 Attucks Lane
Hyannis, MA 02601

Beacon Hospice and Palliative Care
259 Willow Street
Yarmouthport, MA 02675
Hospice House
73 Service Road
East Sandwich, MA 02537

Broad Reach Hospice
390 Orleans Road
Chatham MA 02650

Life Choice Care and Comfort
15 Cape Lane
Brewster MA 02631
Mary McCarthy Hospice House
Sandwich, MA
For information on Hospice House
call Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod at 508-957-0200
Charlesbank Hospice Care
111 Headwaters Drive
Harwich, MA 02645
Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod
Hospice and Palliative Care
434 Route 134, Suite G-1
South Dennis, MA 02660
Allegiance Hospice & Palliative Care
67 Middle Street
Lowell, MA 01852

Hospice of
Martha's Vineyard:
Hospice of Nantucket
@ Cottage Hospital:
Serving Plymouth,
Cranberry Hospice:
P.O. Box 2549
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557
57 Prospect Street
Nantucket, MA 02554
36 Cordage Park Circle
Suite 326
Plymouth, MA 02360

Medicare Hospice Benefits (pdf)
The official government booklet for Medicare hospice benefits with important information about the following:

  • The hospice program and who is eligible
  • Your Medicare hospice benefits
  • How to find a hospice program
  • Where you can get more help
National Hospice Association
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is the largest nonprofit membership organization representing hospice and palliative care programs and professionals in the United States. The organization is committed to improving end of life care and expanding access to hospice care with the goal of profoundly enhancing quality of life for people dying in America and their loved ones.


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