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How to Choose the Right Hospice Program

When medical care can no longer help a patient, it may be time to consider hospice care. While medical care aims to cure, hospice care aims to relieve physical and mental pain. It lets terminally ill patients spend their final days, weeks or months taking medication to ease the pain so they can focus on unfinished business. That can include anything from having final conversations with loved ones to perfecting their putting technique on the golf course. Knowing how to choose the right hospice program is an important part of the end of life process.

Sunny Langlinais, a non-denominational hospice chaplain in south Houston, says her job "is to help [patients] say what they need to say before they leave – to seek the forgiveness, love, reconciliation, whatever they need – and help them come to terms with the fact they are dying. Then I midwife them into the hands of God, whoever their god happens to be. In the process, I also minister to the families, help them let go, say goodbye, and be OK with the process."

Making the move to hospice care isn’t set in stone. If a patient's health improves, the patient can stop hospice care and resume treatment. So, Langlinais says, there's no reason to be afraid of hospice. "The thing I hear over and over is, 'I wish I had done this sooner.'"

Choose the right hospice programHow to Choose the Right Hospice Program
It’s a big decision that everyone involved should feel comfortable with. So how can you choose the right hospice program?

  1. Ask for advice! Doctors, friends and anyone else who has had family members  in hospice care, can be a wealth of information. Ask them if the hospice was responsive and attentive to the patient’s needs and wishes. What services are offered? Can patients get care at home or only in a facility? Is the recommendation based on a business relationship – maybe the doctor is on staff or the program is run by the hospital – or based on the quality of care, support services and patient experience? Any insight can be helpful!
  2. Visit an inpatient hospice to see if the facility and staff meet your expectations. Ask about the process for patients to move from home to inpatient hospice and back.
  3. While it can be very helpful to a sick patient if a loved one is handling most of this research, their needs and wishes should still be taken into consideration. Don’t forget to ask the patient what he/she wants!Interview hospice staff to see if the program is likely to live up to the patient's expectations.
  4. Find out whether the staff is large enough to meet the needs of the patient and the family. If the patient doesn't get along with the assigned caregiver, will it be easy to swap out another caregiver? Have them explain the policies. For example, how quickly can a team member respond if the patient needs new pain medications?
  5. Explore what support programs are offered to surviving family members during and after hospice.
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