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Live with Purpose - November 1, 2020

Fostering Understanding of Hospice Care

By Kathie Miller

Every year, organizations around the country take time to recognize hospice throughout the month of November. This highly specialized care is often misunderstood and stigmatized, yet it is care than can make a world of difference during some of the most delicate and intimate moments of our lives.

“Many in our society consider death a taboo subject,” shares Cynthia Carney, executive director of Goodwin House Hospice. “As a result, people who are dying feel isolated and alone. The hospice team opens that door to the patient who needs and wants to talk about death. I have seen a great relief and liberation once a patient can speak freely about their death.”

At Goodwin House, we have been providing hospice care to our residents for more than 20 years, and we have offered it to the greater Northern Virginia community since 2016. As we honor National Hospice Month this year, we want to address some common misconceptions about this specialized care.

The Short History of Hospice

When you consider the centuries-long history of medicine, hospice care is relatively new. This very specialized type of care was started in the 1960s, thanks to one woman, Dame Cecily Saunders. As The BMJ (British Medical Journal) shared in its obituary for Dame Saunders, she once wrote the following: “It appears that many patients feel deserted by their doctors at the end. Ideally the doctor should remain the center of a team who work together to relieve where they cannot heal, to keep the patient’s own struggle within his compass and to bring hope and consolation to the end.”

This quote remains true for hospice care today, which involves more than just physicians. Dedicated teams of trained professionals—accredited doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, aides and volunteers—together ensure that patients, as well as their loved ones, are supported until the end.

Yet many of us under utilize the assurance and care these specially trained, compassionate professionals can offer. Why? Because there is a lack of awareness around hospice and its benefits.

Dispelling Common Myths About Hospice

“Seeking hospice help is considered by many to be ‘giving up,’” comments Carney. “The hospice team, on the contrary, believes that you can live life more fully until the day you die if you are provided with physical, emotional and spiritual support.”

To help foster greater understanding of hospice care and what it can do for you and your loved ones, we want to address some of the most common myths or misconceptions.

  1. Hospice Is a Place You Go to Die: Hospice is not a place, it’s a philosophy of care, as we often say at Goodwin House. One goal is to help patients live out their days where and how they wish. While there are indeed dedicated spaces where hospice care is delivered, the hospice team provides care in any setting.
  2. Hospice Is Only for the Very End of Life, the Final Days or Weeks: Patients may become eligible for hospice care once a physician has determined that life expectancy is six months or less. Studies suggest that being admitted to hospice earlier in the end-of-life process can lead to better experiences. One Harvard study reported that “Family members reported excellent end-of-life care more often for patients who received hospice care for longer than three days (58.8%) than those who did not receive hospice care or received three or fewer days.”
  3. You Need a Doctor’s Referral Before You Consider Hospice: You or your loved ones can call hospice and request an informational consultation without a physician’s referral. It is your choice to pursue this specialized care, though being admitted formally to hospice requires documentation of a terminal diagnosis and a physician’s order. The hospice team you select will ensure that your care is coordinated with your existing medical care team. Your hospice care team provides additional care, attention and support you might need so that you have more choices to live out your final days as you wish.
  4. Hospice Care Is Only About The Patient: Loved ones often find themselves in the role of caregivers when someone has a terminal illness. Hospice care supports both the patient and their loved ones throughout the process. Patients will receive care that addresses pain and symptom management. In addition to special medical care, you and your loved ones alike can expect support from social workers, spiritual counselors and volunteers who are there to help. Loved ones will also receive bereavement support for 13 months after.
  5. Hospice Care Is Not Covered by Insurance: Medicare and most other insurance providers offer coverage for hospice care. Coverage includes paying for medication, medical equipment, medical supplies and the care team. An additional consideration for hospice patients in Northern Virginia is that Goodwin House Hospice does not turn anyone away for lack of financial resources. This is one of many advantages to our non-profit hospice care model.
  6. What’s the Point of Hospice If I’m Dying Anyway? At Goodwin House Hospice, we strive to bring hope. We recognize that a terminal diagnosis is difficult news to process. We take time to ask “what is most important to you” as you live your final days. Our goal is your goal and we want to ensure you can still live the fullest possible life in the time that remains. Studies indicate that with certain diagnoses, those who choose hospice live longer on average another 29 days. This can mean more time with loved ones.

Comfort When We need it Most

Hospice care teams meet patients and their loved ones during some of the most sacred and intimate moments in their lives. And they remain there for them, 24/7, seeing them through to the end of life and continuing to support them as they process the loss.

“Hospice team members help to normalize the idea that death is part of our lives, and that we can reach out to others for expert help and compassionate support when making this final journey,” noted Carney.

As we recognize National Hospice Month, we extend our profound gratitude to those who provide this type of care, especially our colleagues with accredited Goodwin House Hospice.


As Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications, Kathie Miller provides strategic guidance and tactical support for all areas of Goodwin House. She writes, edits and manages The Good Life blog and newsletter. Kathie joined GHI in 2014 after nearly 15 years at NPR, where she honed her skills in brand and reputation management, content marketing and internal communications. Originally from Pennsylvania, Kathie has slowly come to realize she’s lived in Arlington for more than half her life and should call herself a Virginian. She enjoys the outdoors and brings her rescue dog, Remi, to work every day.

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