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ST. LOUIS – Every year, nearly 1.4 million people living with a life-limiting illness receive care from hospices in the U.S. Hospice services are a comforting alternative to the traditional hospital setting, making it possible for a terminally ill person to remain in their familiar home surroundings and people they love. 

However, there is still a negative stigma about how hospice care happens and the benefits to the patient. 

Dr. Karen Sobers, a geriatric medicine specialist with SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond Heights, says hospice care is focused in the home, to offer support during short-term hospitalizations and during periods of crisis. Hospice services offer compassionate care to allow patients with terminal illnesses the opportunity to focus on their quality of life while being supported at home. 

Hospice nurses provide symptom management and pain relief along with home health aide and homemaker services for those who need it. Many offer physical or occupational therapies, skilled nursing, and medical equipment support.

“Hospice is a very important service that provides so much to people in the last six months of their lives,” Sobers said. “The more people can hear about it and know what it is all about, the more people will be able to understand how much hospice care can benefit them.” 

She says that often, the stigma is that if you go on hospice care then you are dying.  

“But the reality of it is that people who are hospice are able to maximize their quality of life and have control their symptoms in a way that may be difficult if you are not on hospice,” she said. “The lack of knowledge of what we can really do is what may mean we are underutilized.”

Dr. Sobers says hospice care is a total team effort.

“So, there is a whole team involved in hospice care. There is a medical director, nurse practitioner, there are aides who come into the home, nurse, there are social workers, chaplains and so much more,” she said. 

She says hospice care takes place in a home setting, but home can be anywhere that is home including assisted living facilities, nursing homes, independent living facilities, or private residences. Hospice comes into wherever the person is and attends to their needs. While hospice nurses are not physically in the home for 24 hours, they are always available and on-call. 

The hospice team will support and help any caregiver of the patient with daily activities such as, “feeding a meal, bathing, wound care, education, teach symptom management and really they work together with the caregivers to make sure the needs are being met.”

To learn more about the Hospice programs, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs Wednesdays on News 11 at 7 p.m. and FOX 2 News at 9 p.m.