By Annette Pinder

November is National Hospice & Palliative Care month, and a time to let individuals and families know how and where they can receive help and support in coping with serious illness.

What is Hospice Care? Individuals and families undergoing a life-limiting illness are faced with monumental challenges in getting the necessary medical care and support to manage their lives and personal struggles. It is a period of time in which people are forced to embark upon an unexpected journey without a roadmap to navigate a complex health system. Hospice programs address the gaps in this complex system by providing comprehensive medical, psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual care to those making this unwanted journey. The hospice team administering this care includes specially trained physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, home health aides, expressive therapists, and volunteers who are there to support patients and families. Each member of this extraordinary team is available 24/7 to identify and accommodate the needs, wishes, and goals of those needing their care. It is also a continuum of care that does not end with the passing of a loved one. In fact, bereavement services are available for up to 13 months following death, including individualized one-on-one counseling, group sessions, and educational resources. Most importantly, hospice care is a Medicare benefit that covers 100 percent of the costs for these services. Most health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) include hospice services.

What is Palliative Care? Palliative care exists to provide relief from symptoms and stresses that accompany a serious illness. The primary goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of individuals experiencing a serious illness and to support their loved ones. Two important palliative care programs are Home Connections and Essential Care for Children.

Home Connections. This program coordinates the care of adult patients and families facing a serious illness, regardless of diagnosis, stage of illness, prognosis, or continued treatment for the illness. The Home Connections team works with primary care physicians, specialists, and health agencies to help manage symptoms, optimize life quality, and provide care strategies on education, disease progression, and community linkages.

Essential Care for Children. This program addresses the medical, psychosocial, spiritual, and general needs associated with improving the life quality of children and families facing a serious illness. Specially trained nurses, social workers, spiritual care counselors, and expressive therapists coordinate with the child’s pediatrician and other specialists to manage symptoms, address care goals, and assist with community linkages. Available 24/7, the team helps children and families remain in their home, and minimize the need for ER and hospital visits.

Only 14 percent of the estimated 40 million people eligible to receive palliative care know that they can receive it. Know your care options. Learn about the importance of making your wishes known and having a health care proxy. Call your primary care physician to start the discussion, or call us.

If you, or someone in your life is struggling with a serious illness and need information on how to navigate this unexpected journey, call 686-8000 or visit