On the hospice journey, every person’s life situation and illness are different. One person may have a large family that will split care duties, while another person may have one child and a close friend available to help. For one person, a terminal illness may manifest quickly while the same illness takes longer in another person.
Because situations are varied and could change at any time, Medicare (which covers the largest majority of hospice care expenses) requires that hospice care providers offer four levels of service. You may start the day at one level and be at another level later in the day as needs change, and that’s okay. Hospice programs are equipped to pivot and adjust quickly as things change.
Today, we’ll review the four levels (or “kinds”) of hospice care that are available to families.
1. Routine or Intermittent Home Care
More than likely, it is routine or intermittent home care that comes to mind when you think of hospice. With this level of care, nurses, aides, or therapists stop by the home for short, regularly scheduled visits. These visits are focused on pain management, symptom management, emotional and spiritual counseling for the patient and family, assistance with daily tasks, nutritional services, and therapeutic services.
Routine care takes place wherever the patient calls home. This could mean a residence, a skilled nursing facility, or an assisted living facility, to name a few options. Also, while visits are routine, if your family needs additional help, there’s a nurse on-call 24 hours a day.
2. Continuous Care
With continuous care (or crisis care), a hospice patient will receive nursing assistance for several hours at a time, or even overnight, during a time of medical crisis or intense symptoms. If the patient’s symptoms are severe, they will need more focused and frequent care, so the hospice worker will stay for longer periods of time.
If death is imminent, the hospice nurse may stay overnight or offer whatever support they can to the family. This type of round-the-clock nursing allows family caregivers the opportunity to step back from hands-on care and focus on simply being with their loved one.
3. In-patient Care
While it’s most common to receive hospice care at home, sometimes home nursing isn’t enough. If symptoms intensify or it’s become impossible to manage pain or symptoms at home, a hospice patient may receive in-patient care at a hospital, nursing home of their choice, or independent hospice facility (also called a “hospice house”).
The goal of in-patient care is to help a patient become stable enough that they can return home again. However, in some cases, the person chooses to spend their final days at the in-patient care facility rather than return home.
If the medical need that leads to in-patient care is related to a hospice diagnosis, your insurance’s hospice benefit will likely continue to pay the bills. With an unrelated medical issue, contact your insurance company to discuss what’s covered in your policy.
4. Respite Care
For caregiving family members, a terminally ill loved one’s physical needs can be demanding. To give family caregivers an occasional break, hospice providers offer in-patient respite care.
With respite care, the hospice patient is checked into a 24-hour personal care home. While there, the patient will receive round-the-clock care for up to 5 days. After 5 days, the patient returns home to receive either routine care or continuous care (as needed).
Though this level of care isn’t necessary for every family, it is available and covered by Medicare. Also, if your family needs respite care more than once, that’s fine, too. Just coordinate with your hospice team.
Who Determines Which Level of Care is Appropriate?
When you start using the services of a hospice provider, the hospice physician and nursing team will complete an assessment to determine which level of care is appropriate at that time. As symptoms change, the hospice medical personnel can keep tabs on the hospice patient’s status. They can adjust levels of care as needed.
However, don’t think you have to wait on the doctors to take notice. If you see a need to update your level of care, don’t be afraid to ask. Be proactive and talk to your hospice team about updating your care routine.
If you have more questions about the four levels, contact a local hospice provider and start getting answers. While there may be four “levels,” the best part is that no matter which level of care you or a loved one receive, the hospice philosophy will not change: to provide expert medical care and emotional support that respects the unique wishes of the patient. From the moment you begin a hospice care program, your family will be in good hands.