Frequently Asked Questions

Where can hospice services be provided?

Hospice can be provided wherever the person is residing: Home, Nursing Home, Assisted Living Community, Hospital or Hospice.

How much will hospice services cost?

Medicare beneficiaries pay little or nothing for hospice, and most insurance plans, HMOs and managed care plans include hospice coverage.

How long can hospice care be provided?

Hospice patients and families can receive care for six months or longer depending upon the course of the illness.

Does choosing hospice mean giving up?

Hospice focuses on living… living as fully as possibly up until the end of life, aggressively managing symptoms such as pain. With hospice care, the focus changes from trying to cure the underlying disease to treating the symptoms caused by the disease, so that the patient is comfortable.

Can hospice care prolong the life of someone diagnosed with a terminal illness?

Hospice and palliative care may prolong the lives of some terminally ill patients. In a 2007 study, the mean survival was 29 days longer for hospice patients than for non-hospice patients. In other words, patients who chose hospice care lived an average of one month longer than similar patients who did not choose hospice care. Longer lengths of survival were found in four of the six disease categories studied. The largest difference in survival between the hospice and non-hospice cohorts was observed in congestive heart failure patients where the mean survival period jumped from 321 days to 402 days.  The mean survival period was also significantly longer for hospice patients with lung cancer (39 days) and pancreatic cancer (21 days), while marginally significant for colon cancer (33 days).1

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Does hospice require switching doctors?

The primary doctor can continue to follow and be involved in the patient’s care. Hospice has physicians available to assist the primary physician in the care of the patient.

Who are the members of the hospice team?

A hospice coordinator or director, Physicians (Medical Director), Nurses, Chaplains, Social Workers, Volunteers, Dietitians, Certified Nursing Assistants, Counselors, Pharmacists, and Therapists (physical, occupational, etc.).

Is hospice care only for those diagnosed with cancer?

No. Hospice services are available for anyone who has a life-limiting illness. People who suffer from heart disease, dementia, stroke, lung disease, liver failure and renal failure may be eligible. Over fifty percent of hospice patients have illnesses other than cancer.

Is hospice the same as traditional home health (THH)?

No. The focus of THH is rehabilitative, while the focus of hospice is comfort care and the enhancement of quality of life. Hospice provides volunteers, chaplains (spiritual care counselors), around the clock bedside care (continuous care) and up to 13 months of bereavement services. THH does not provide these services. THH visits are usually 1-2 times per week where hospice visits can average 4-5 times per week.

Is hospice the same as palliative home health (PHH)?

No. PHH combines the medical model of THH and the psychosocial model of hospice and is provided to those patients who wish to continue curative treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation and dialysis. PHH visits are performed by palliative care trained staff, visit duration is much the same as hospice and cases are reviewed weekly by a palliative care team, just like hospice. The main difference is in the frequency of visits. While hospice staff may see a patient 4-5 times per week, PHH visits, though longer in duration, are more similar to THH. Hospice also offers around-the-clock bedside care (continuous care), if needed. For more information about PHH, visit

Does hospice provide much in the way of services?

Besides our most important asset, our staff, hospice also provides medications, equipment (such as oxygen) and supplies related to symptom management of the terminal illness.

Is it possible that there’s no hospice agency in my area?

Less than one percent of Medicare beneficiaries live in an area where hospice is not available.

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Are hospice services for the patient only?

Hospice provides support to the patient, family members and caregivers. Up to 13 months of bereavement services such as telephone calls, cards, and memorial services are available to loved ones.

What criterion is necessary to be admitted to hospice service?

To qualify for hospice care, two physicians must agree that the patient has an estimated life expectancy of six (6) months or less, if the illness runs its normal course; the patient and family desire palliative care; a physician has been identified to coordinate care of the patient and the patient must reside in agency’s service area.

What are some of the diagnoses of patients who receive hospice care?

Diagnoses may include: Cancer; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; Heart Disease; Dementia (Alzheimer’s); End Stage Renal disease; Stroke; End Stage Liver disease; Failure to Thrive; Unspecified Debility; Lou Gehrig’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; and AIDS.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of a terminal patient that would be appropriate for hospice care?

Signs and symptoms may include:  patient not eating or drinking well enough to sustain weight; weight loss of 10% or more in 6 months or less; recurrent infections in last 6 months; frequent hospitalizations in last 6 months; patient or family refuses artificial nutrition and hydration methods; patient refuses hospitalization or other aggressive treatments; patient has optimal treatment, but continues to exacerbate; and a significant decline in overall health due to multiple medical and function problems.

What are advance directives?

They’re documents that allow the patient to state what kind of medical treatment they want or don’t want in the event that they become unable to communicate their wishes.

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What are some of the services volunteers provide?

Volunteers may help patients and families directly with chores, and companionship. Support is a very important part of being a hospice volunteer. For more information, see the volunteer section of the website.

How can I become a hospice volunteer?

Contact the hospice office in your area for more information on becoming a volunteer.  You may be required to attend an interview and complete a training program.

How can I help those in need of hospice care with financial support?

The St. Joseph Hospice Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing support and financial assistance to terminally ill patients and their families without the financial resources for basic care and needs that are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance plans. All donations and in-kind gifts are tax deductible. Donations can be made by visiting the Foundation website at

1Connor S.R., Pyenson B., Fitch K., Spence C., Iwasaki K. Comparing hospice and non-hospice patient survival among patients who die within a three year window. Pain Symptom Management; 2007 March; 33(3):238-46.