How do I choose a Hospice Agency? Part 1

Hospice is a Medicare program designed to provide comfort and support for individuals at the end of their life. Medicare evaluates agencies that provide services by addressing issues related to how quickly comfort is provided and the level of support the hospice team is giving to a patient and their family.

Questions you may want to consider in evaluating a hospice agency include:

  1. Are my hospice services covered by my insurance? While Medicare covers hospice at 100%, there are insurance companies that cover only a portion of the service or limit the services provided, including the number of days the patient may access the benefit. It is important to have an idea of out-of-pocket costs if you are not accessing hospice as a Medicare beneficiary.
  2. How long has this hospice agency been supporting patients in this community? Every community is different, and there may be cultural practices that agencies that have been serving an area for a long time may be aware of and are able to better support. The hospice benefit should incorporate your individual beliefs, spiritual needs and practices. Chaplains are provided as spiritual counselors. They are not proselytizing or promoting any particular religious belief system.
  3. Where does this agency provide hospice services? Agencies may choose to provide services in particular spaces, such as skilled nursing, assisted living, or in hospice houses. Elite provides services anywhere the patient calls home. It is important to check if your agency has restrictions on where they are able to provide services to support continued care even if you have to move locations.
  4. Does this hospice agency provide all of my medical equipment? Most hospice agencies will cover the cost of necessary medical equipment, such as a hospital bed, commode, and incontinence supplies. These needs are typically identified at admission and adjusted if needed during the course of hospice services.
  5. Will I have the same hospice nurse/team? While staffing may change to support on-call coverage, most hospice agencies are intentional in having the same hospice providers – nurse, chaplain, social worker, and aide – with you during the duration of your hospice service. We know that having familiar people in your home is part of providing comfort and care. Our on-call nurse is the exception to this, as we rotate our staff to support work-life balance. With that said, many of our nurses will request to be present when their patient passes and will often put the on-call nurse on alert if the call is about their particular patient.
  6. How many patients are assigned to each hospice nurse? These numbers vary by agency. At Elite, our patients serve both home health and hospice, so our numbers reflect that difference. We also support a large geographic space, so each nurse’s caseload is determined in part by the area being covered, the patient complexity, the mix of home health and hospice, the nurse’s employment status (part time or full time) and the nurse’s experience, anywhere from 8-20 patients is the average.
  7. Does the hospice agency have after hours, weekend, holidays and night support? Yes, hospice is a 24/7 service. We are available through our phone triage and in person. Simply call our main number 509-758-2568, and we will get you the right level of support.
  8. When I call with an urgent need, how long will it take someone to respond? We have a 20 minute turnaround on all phone calls. If the nurse identifies the need for a visit, there may be a delay depending on where the nurse is coming from. They will typically provide a time expectation based on the patient location and where they are coming from. If they are addressing another patient need, there may be a delay in an in-person visit. Know that we create redundancies to support if there are multiple needs at once, so a nurse can come to the home in a reasonable amount of time if needed.

We have lots more to cover. Stay tuned to next week for Part 2!