By Melissa Weidman

Serena Martin knew that hospice would be a likely care option for her elderly mother, Gerrie, as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed. Being a nurse herself, Serena often heard families rave about the benefits that hospice provides to both patients and caregivers. When Gerrie’s condition deteriorated, Serena decided it was time to make the call, and discovered a big surprise — there were 12 different hospice providers listed in her area, and she didn’t have the slightest idea of how to differentiate between them.

“I’d always thought that ‘hospice was hospice,’” Serena said. “I believed that it was one big organization across the country, not many different ones. When I looked online, several in our area had good reviews and seemed similar, so I didn’t know where to start in choosing one above the rest. It was a real conundrum!”

In doing her online research, Serena discovered that there are more than 4,000 different hospice providers in the United States today, and more than 66 in Massachusetts alone. Hospices may be non-profit or for-profit organizations, some are freestanding community-based organizations, or some may be affiliated with hospitals, home health agencies, or health care systems.

Though all hospices are mandated to follow standardized guidelines and regulations, each is entitled to interpret those guidelines according to their own philosophy of care. That means that hospices may feature unique services and even diverse settings where they offer services.

Serena found the most important difference to her was whether or not a hospice was a non-profit or for-profit organization (many are for-profit national organizations). Serena said, “I learned in my quest for the right hospice for our family that I could call them, ask questions, and select the one that matched what mattered most to my mother and me.”

Serena’s approach is simply smart healthcare consumer strategy. We shop around for the kind of car or house that’s right for us; we compare prices, ratings, and features for services or products of all kinds. Selecting the right hospice provider can make all the difference to the quality of the experience you and your family encounter in this most important and challenging time of life. Asking care providers to specify their different services is a consumer’s right. And most importantly, you have the right to choose whichever provider you decide is best for you. So it makes sense to ask the questions that will be most helpful in your decision-making process.

Here’s a list of the top questions to consider when you are choosing a hospice provider:

  • Does the hospice have non-profit status and 20 or more years of experience?
  • Are there hospice-certified nurses and doctors on staff and available 24 hours a day?
  • Are palliative care consultants available who can begin care if you’re not yet ready for hospice?
  • Is there an inpatient unit, where patients can go if symptoms can’t be managed at home?
  • Can they provide care in nursing homes and assisted-living communities?
  • Does the organization have Medicare approval?
  • Are there limits on treatment being received?
  • What kind of grief support does the hospice offer?
  • How are patient and family concerns handled?
  • How does the hospice measure and track its quality data?
  • Can the hospice meet your specific needs?
  • Do they offer extra services beyond those required?

The answers to these questions can help guide and inform your decisions regarding hospice care for your family.

Melissa Weidman is Director of Community Relations and Outreach for HopeHealth. She can be reached at (800) 642-2423 or MWeidman@HopeHealthCo.org.