Growing pains for hospice care

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

A family crisis drove my first encounter with hospice care.

At the time, a cancer that began in my mother's lungs was moving in for the kill. As she had little time left to live, her physician signed her up for hospice coverage. It was one of the nicest things anyone ever did for her.

Thanks to hospice, her final months were far more dignified, comfortable and pain-free than might have otherwise been the case. To this day, I'm grateful for the kind and compassionate assistance she received.

The concept behind hospice care is fairly basic: provide critically ill patients with as much care as possible during their final days. Compared to dying in a hospital hooked up to monitors, well, there's no comparison.

My impression then was that hospice is one of the best things Medicare has to offer.

Fast forward to this week, when a damning story in Time magazine revealed a very different reality. Many of the nation's 4,000 or so hospice agencies are not living up to their end of a bargain that costs taxpayers about $16 billion each year, according to the story.

Families calling for assistance are regularly encountering delays, and even no-shows. How bad is it? Families or caregivers filed more than 3,200 complaints in the past half-decade, according to the report. In all, investigators found problems with more than 700 hospice providers. Among those cited, more than half did not deliver on promised services or visits. All things considered, that is inexcusable.

Chances are pretty good that your organization works with a hospice provider. Which is good. The reality is that for many people, your community is the last place they will live. And for more than a few of them, hospice will be a helpful option.

So it's critically important that you align with agencies that keep the promises they make. When they need to be there, they need to be there. Your residents deserve no less.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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