The primary focus of hospice care isn’t about dollars and cents, but it’s a program that can reduce health-care costs while improving the quality of life — and death — for patients and their families.
The provincial government announced this week an action plan to improve end-of-life care that will enable people to remain in their homes and communities longer. Included in that plan is a commitment of $2 million for a hospice centre of excellence.
The province’s plan is three-pronged: more fully incorporate end-of-life care into standard health services; increase public awareness of palliative care and provide end-of-life education and resources to health-care professionals; and implement provincial end-of-life care clinical guidelines, protocols and standards.
Hospice and palliative care are similar, except that hospice focuses on bringing comfort and peace of mind to those who are terminally ill or dying, while palliative care can involve patients who are undergoing treatment for curable illnesses or those living with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are nearing the end of life.
The province’s initiative is a sign of how far palliative and hospice care have come. Dave Traynor, manager of communications for the Victoria Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation, says that 30 years ago, hospice care was more or less a fringe movement.
“Some people were committed, but the vast majority didn’t think about it,” he said. “Now it’s becoming more and more obvious that end-of-life care is a necessary part of life. [It] has become much more mainstream.”
The chief aim of the health-care system is to cure illness and preserve life. That often means tests, treatments, procedures — a wide range of options. But when the time comes that no more treatment is available, when death is imminent and inevitable, hospice care can help, turning the focus from seeking a cure to relieving pain and easing the final journey.
It’s a process that brings comfort not only to the patients, but to their families as well.
“It’s very much a holistic program for everyone,” says Kathleen Burton, Victoria Hospice’s director of development. “The biggest piece is emotional support for the whole family. It strengthens the family’s ability to care for their loved one.”
Hospice professionals help families and patients deal with a range of issues — emotional, medical, spiritual, financial and legal — that are associated with the end of life. They bring order and calm to what can be a bewildering and stressful situation.
Traynor says a traumatic situation is often turned into a positive experience as people turn from worrying about death to focusing on quality of remaining life.
Most hospice patients don’t want to end their days in a hospital, and hospice enables those who so choose to die at home.
Others might stay at home as long as possible, then spend their final days or hours in a hospice bed.
Hospice care can cost half as much as hospital care, says Traynor, and care in a home environment even less.
“We’re not doing it just to save money,” he says. “But ultimately it costs less money, with a better outcome.”
While hospice care isn’t primarily about saving money, its growing role in the mainstream health-care system can help reduce costs while pursuing its goal of providing comfort and peace of mind.
Putting more resources into hospice is a good use of health-care funding. In some ways, it’s more efficient, and it’s considerably better for patients and their families.