The Cancer Hope Network staff recently had a chance to sit down with Michele Cameron, of Atlantic Health’s Home Care & Hospice program in New Jersey. It was an extremely informative session and we wanted to share some of the highlights.
Michele spoke about the growing focus on helping patients avoid readmission to the hospital, the trend toward discharging patients directly to their homes, and trading homecare for extended stays in rehabilitation facilities. She also discussed advances in palliative or supportive care and important information about hospice care.
Like many across the nation, Atlantic’s Support Care Program is administered by highly-trained hospice staff and aids patients who have a serious illness but do not require a move to hospice care. These programs often focus on bridging the service gap between hospitalization and hospice care.
In a hopeful sign for patients and families, more doctors across the country are opening palliative care practices. There’s more reimbursement/coverage available for this type of care, giving patients access to expert in-home care without additional financial burden. Both palliative and hospice care services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans.
While specific regulations vary by state, access to palliative or home care generally requires that three conditions be met: a patient must be homebound, have a “skilled need” that requires care from a nurse, and care must be ordered by a doctor. The criteria for hospice is a life expectancy of less than 6 months and a doctor's order.
Perhaps the most inspiring takeaway from our visit with Michele was the fact that palliative and hospice care are about much more than the end of life.
Although an official move to hospice care changes the focus of care from cure to comfort, “We don’t focus on dying, we focus on living,” she said. “Many people are reluctant to enter hospice care, thinking it means they are giving up. We hear repeatedly ‘I wish we’d done this sooner.’”
Once in hospice care, the staff focuses on fulfilling family wishes, creating lasting memories and helping families deal with a difficult time. Hospice teams provide round-the-clock access to care and support that is personalized to individual needs. The team works with a patient’s current doctor to coordinate care and create an experience that is tailored to meet the patient’s wishes.
While some patients are happily discharged from hospice, many are not. For those families, the hospice team works to provide support even after their loved one’s death. From bereavement support groups to personal follow up or a weeklong day camp for children, “Hospice is not just for the patient, it’s for the family.”
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