By: Dr. Terry Sutterfield, Medical Director, Circle of Life

As Medical Director of Circle of Life Hospice, I am privileged to work with an outstanding team of very motivated nurses, nurse’s aides, chaplains, social workers and volunteers who provide extraordinary care to our patients. Hospice is about more than control of pain and other symptoms. It is also about the emotional and spiritual needs in the last six months of life. It is about supporting the patient and their family as they walk through this very difficult season in their lives.

In 2011, more than 1.5 million Americans and almost 12,000 Arkansas residents received hospice care. It’s been more than 30 years since Medicare approved the hospice benefit and although millions are being served, there are still many misconceptions about hospice today. I would like to share some facts that may help clear up those misunderstandings.

What is hospice and who qualifies for hospice care? Hospice provides care for those facing a life-limiting, terminal illness. When an individual has a prognosis of six months or less, and has been in and out of the hospital with little or no improvement, it is time to consider hospice. Hospice care focuses on quality of life and comfort for the patient and their family when a cure is no longer possible. Choosing hospice care is not giving up on life. We always have hope until the very end but the focus is on caring, not curing. To qualify for hospice a patient must be in the last six months of life, if the disease follows its normal course.

How much does hospice cost? Generally, hospice is covered under Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance with little or no out-of-pocket expense to the patient. The hospice benefit includes durable medical equipment – the devices and equipment needed to keep patients comfortable – such as a hospital bed, walker, oxygen supply, disposable supplies and all drugs related to the hospice diagnosis.

Hospice is not just for the last few days or weeks of life. Hospice patients are served by an interdisciplinary team, comprised of a nurse, social worker, aide, chaplain, volunteer and physician – whose collective skills provide dignified and compassionate end-of-life care. Some patients actually improve on hospice. It is always better for patients at end-of-life and their families to receive the support of a hospice team early enough to benefit fully from the care and resources of that team. Patients are referred to hospice by their primary physician, but most doctors would be open to patients asking the question, “Would this be the time to consider hospice?” If you think you or a loved one might qualify for hospice, ask your doctor.

Ninety five percent of Circle of Life patients are cared for in the place they call home. Wherever a patient resides in Benton, Carroll, Madison or Washington counties, we come to them in their residence, nursing home, assisted living facility or wherever they call home. Circle of Life is one of the few hospices nationally to offer free-standing inpatient facilities for acute symptom management and respite care. We are fortunate at Circle of Life to have two inpatient hospice homes: The Earlene Howard Hospice Home in Springdale and the Circle of Life Hospice Home at Legacy Village in Bentonville.

At Circle of Life, we recognize that death does not occur in a vacuum. The Grief Center of Circle of Life provides bereavement care designed to support family and friends in a manner that honors memories while finding ways to carry on. Circle of Life’s bereavement services are open to the community at no cost.

Circle of Life is the largest non-profit hospice in Northwest Arkansas. No one is ever turned away because of their inability to pay. To find out more about HOSPICE call Circle of Life at 479-750-6632.