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Hospice experts advocate for early admission to hospice


Karen M. Giffin, AVP of Mission Advancement

“Former President Jimmy Carter’s months-long time in hospice has helped tens of millions of Americans realize that hospice isn’t a brink-of-death service, that it helps patients and families focus on quality of life and not just length of life,” observed Hospice of Washington County CEO Sara McKay.

With a physician, nurse practitioner, nurse, certified nursing assistant, social worker, chaplain, bereavement specialist and hospice-trained volunteers, “the hospice team is structured to manage the patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs and support the patient’s loved ones while helping them care for their loved one,” McKay added.

According to Lee-Anne West, MD, physician executive and chief consultant for Hospice of Washington County, one of the biggest hurdles to overcoming resistance to a timely hospice admission is the misnomer that signing up for hospice means that a patient is giving up and that care stops with a hospice admission. “Nothing could be further from the reality of what hospice care entails,” West explained. A major difference, she noted, “is that before a patient enters hospice, the focus isn’t on the patient but rather is on fighting the disease—even when those treatments aren’t helping. After a patient enters hospice, the focus is solely on the patient’s comfort and dignity, managing pain and other symptoms, thus allowing the patient to enjoy being at home, in a comfortable setting, surrounded by family and friends.

Instead of endless trips to a hospital emergency room for a patient with a limited time left to live, “the care comes to the patient in hospice,” she explained.

Having worked in hospice and palliative care for more than 18 years, West has seen numerous studies over the years that have demonstrated that patients who enroll in hospice live longer than patients with a similar diagnosis and similar demographics who continue aggressive curative treatments up until they are near death. “For many patients who come on hospice earlier, life expectancy can increase by as much as one to three months,” West stated. “When you step back from doing everything to treat the disease, the patient is allowed to live in the moment. The psychological pressure often melts. Hospice patients tend to live longer when they elect the hospice benefit earlier.”

As Director of Inpatient Services at Doey’s House, Hospice of Washington County’s 12-bed freestanding hospice inpatient unit, Tracy Moser, RN, has seen many hospice patients admitted with just days left to live. “It’s unfortunate when people come in very, very late,” said the 17-year veteran of Hospice of Washington County. “It just seems that they miss out so much of the support hospice can provide both to the patient and to the patient’s loved ones.”

A timely hospice admission also benefits the nursing homes and assisted living communities that many hospice patients call home, Moser noted. “By engaging with their residents earlier in their terminal disease process, we’re able to provide comfort, lend our expertise, and ensure the resident is comfortable. But we also provide vital emotional support to the resident’s family as well as the nursing home or assisted living staff, who often are considered part of the resident’s extended family. We can help prevent repeat trips to the hospital by managing our patients, their residents, in the place they call home.”

The key to maximizing the care and support hospice provides is communication, West said. “Have these conversations early in the disease trajectory about goals of care and patient and family needs. Don’t wait for a crisis. For the patient, focus on what you would like. Talk through what hospice might look like—with your family, with your physicians, with Hospice of Washington County.”

“We know that’s what Jimmy Carter and his family did. And the time they’ve had together while hospice cared for the former President has been a gift to everyone in his life,” McKay concluded.

To learn more about Hospice of Washington County or to request a consult with a hospice expert, visit or call 301-791-6360.

About Hospice of Washington County
A leader in community-based, mission-driven end-of-life care in the Mid-Atlantic, Hospice of Washington County provides palliative care, hospice care, and comprehensive grief and bereavement care throughout Washington County, Md. Founded in 1980 by a core group of local citizens, Hospice of Washington has been able to meet community need for serious illness and grief and bereavement care thanks to the generous support of a caring community. Its stand-alone, 12-bed inpatient hospice care center, Doey’s House, opened in 2017 to offer a home-away-from-home for hospice patients requiring 24/7 pain and symptom management for brief periods. Hospice of Washington County’s comprehensive grief and bereavement programs for children, teens, and adults are open free of charge to anyone in the community who has suffered a loss. In 2020, Hospice of Washington County launched Franklin Hospice in Chambersburg, Penn., to serve patients throughout Franklin County, Penn. Under the direction of its Board of Directors comprised of distinguished local business, healthcare, and community leaders, Hospice of Washington County works each day to fulfill its mission of “embracing individual needs with love, kindness, and compassionate care while creating meaningful end-of-life experiences for our patients and families.”


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