Knowing what to do when a loved one is nearing the end of their life is never an easy thing to think about. To help those navigating hospice care options, Angela Cross, the Area Director of Business Development for Hospice Plus - Houston, spoke with Community Impact about what hospice care is, how to choose the right one and what to expect in the journey.

What is hospice care?

Hospice care focuses on end-of-life comfort, when somebody is at a stage in their illness where there's nothing more to be done through curative treatment, and who has a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice is a philosophy of care that includes a specially trained team of healthcare professionals caring for the patient, relieving anxiety and providing support for the caregiver or family.

Hospice focuses on symptom management, not just from a physical aspect, but also from a social, spiritual and emotional perspective. We look at ways to support the family and the patient. Are they in pain? Can we make sure that it’s taken care of? Do they need equipment or supplies? Do they need another place for care? We look at everything we can to make sure the patient is comfortable.

What levels of care does Hospice Plus offer?

There are four different levels of care in hospice. Routine home care, which is wherever home is. There is respite care, which can be used for up to five days and is utilized when a caregiver needs rest. The third level of care is continuous care, also called crisis care, when a patient is in a crisis and has symptoms that can’t be managed over a normal visit. Then there’s inpatient hospice, where the patient goes into a hospital setting, or hospital-like setting, for a crisis to be managed, meaning the issue cannot be resolved in their home setting.

What are some of the most common illnesses that patients have when they go into hospice care?

It can be anything that leads to terminal diagnosis, such as heart failure, lung failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, late-stage Alzheimer's/Dementia, Parkinson's, liver disease, renal failure, strokes, comas, AIDS/HIV or any combination of diseases that lead to a terminal diagnosis.

What is the process for assessing and admitting patients into the hospice program?

When a referral is received, we call or visit the family to ensure they are ready for the hospice conversation. Once they have decided that hospice is right for them, we need a physician's order to assess the patient.

Once we receive the order, a nurse does a full assessment. The nurse then speaks with the doctor and our medical director and then receives approval to admit their loved one to hospice service. Our services are fully explained, including what we can and can't do, and the patient completes the required paperwork. Our nurse then creates a plan of care for the patient.

How do you address not only the physical needs of patients and families but also the emotional needs that come along with being in hospice care?

Our interdisciplinary team, which includes chaplains, bereavement coordinators and social workers, provides emotional and spiritual support for our patients and families. Social workers are incredibly valuable team members, helping identify needed resources for the families as well as being a shoulder to lean on. The chaplain provides spiritual support, if the family desires, or works together with the family’s own pastor. The bereavement coordinator helps with grief. Even though the patient is still with us receiving care, their families tend to go through what we call pre-grieving, and our team is there to help them through that process.

What are the costs typically associated with choosing hospice care?

If you have Medicare or Medicaid, hospice services are 100% covered with no out of pocket cost. With private insurance, there may be a co-payment depending on the benefits. If it's the Veterans Administration payor, the VA typically pays 100% of hospice services.

What should families look for when selecting a company to care for their loved ones?

Ask the following things: what is the response time to on-call, what the staffing ratio is, what geographic areas they cover, who the medical director is, how the hospice performed on their state audit. Ask about their mission, vision and values. Look on Medicare’s Care Compare site for their ratings. Other questions might include: the staff weekend and night coverage, and response time? How long has the hospice been serving patients? Do they provide a hospital bed and other needed medical equipment? How are family and caregivers given the information and training needed to care for the patient at home? How will the hospice staff work with me, my family, and caregivers, and honor my wishes? Do they offer bereavement services?

After completing your research and interviews, compare notes. Look at Google reviews of the hospice. Seek input from friends or family members, and don’t hesitate to call a hospice back for clarification or if you have lingering questions. If you have not yet received a referral, contact your doctor to discuss the process and your choice in hospice care providers.

Hospice Plus covers the Greater Houston area and more information can be found on their website here.

The above story was produced by Community Impact's Storytelling Multi-Platform Journalist Sierra Rozen with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team. Our integrity promise to our readers is to clearly identify all CI Storytelling posts so they are separate from the content decided upon, researched, and written by our journalism department.