Most people think hospice only happens at home or in a hospice facility. But if your loved one currently lives in an assisted living community, then they are at home, and bringing hospice into assisted living will allow them to pass peacefully at home.
“When someone moves into assisted living, it becomes their home,” says Karen Walters-Zucco, Executive Director and Director of Marketing of The Arbors at Amherst. “We’re their extended family. We know their likes and dislikes, and we know their families so well. We’re able to work closely with the hospice provider to make sure that the person is having as wonderful an end-of-life journey as they can.”
So how does hospice care in assisted living work? What are the benefits of hospice in assisted living? And how do you know when to bring hospice into assisted living?
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice care is designed for people who are nearing the end of their life. Unlike other medical care, the goal of hospice care isn’t to cure serious illness or slow the disease’s progress.
Rather, hospice is an approach to care that prioritizes maximizing comfort for a person who is dying and supporting the highest quality of life possible for whatever time remains. Hospice services also help support families by providing counseling and respite care.
Some typical services provided by a hospice care provider include:
- Regular visits by a hospice registered nurse for management of pain and other symptoms
- Regular visits by a hospice certified nursing assistant for bathing, grooming, and eating
- Emotional and spiritual support by a licensed social worker and/or chaplain for the individual and their family
- Education for family members on the care process and how to care for the person who is ill
- Supplies and medications for the terminal illness and related conditions
- Coordination of care and medications across all medical providers
Hospice care is covered by Medicare and most private health insurance plans.
How Does Hospice in Assisted Living Work?
When a family brings hospice into an assisted living community, the hospice care is provided by an outside agency, not the assisted living community. But both organizations work closely together to provide the best possible care for the resident.
“The assisted living community is involved in the whole process because we're part of the team,” Walters-Zucco says. “We know the person best, so we’re present for the intake and provide information on what their current struggles are. It works seamlessly because there is ongoing communication among the family, the assisted living staff, and the hospice staff.”
One thing to keep in mind, Walters-Zucco says, is that hospice care isn’t provided 24/7. Although a member of the hospice team visits regularly, the assisted living care team will continue to provide care. “Because we develop such close relationships with families, they trust us to be part of their loved one’s end-of-life care,” she says.
Walters-Zucco says a majority of the residents at The Arbors at Amherst choose to do hospice at the assisted living community. “I just met with a family this morning,” she says. “They said, ‘You know, I never wanted my mom to pass anywhere but here. This was her home. I didn’t want my mom to go to a hospice facility where nobody knows her and where everyone is dying. I wanted my mom to die here where everybody is living.’”
What Are the Benefits of Hospice in Assisted Living?
One of the biggest benefits of bringing hospice care into the assisted living community is that your loved one doesn’t have to move again.
“Imagine having two weeks left to live and you’re loaded on a hospital gurney, removed from your home, and transported by an ambulance to a hospice facility where nobody knows you,” describes Walters-Zucco. “How horrible! It’s so traumatic.”
“I’m not saying going to a hospice facility is always horrible,” she continues. “But if you are in an assisted living community, then you are with people who love you and know everything about you. They know when you’re not comfortable, and they want to make sure you are comfortable. And we know the families so well.”
Walters-Zucco shares the story of a resident who had lived at The Arbors for seven years and who elected to bring hospice into the assisted living community. “When they’re lying in their bed, they look up and see that they’re at home surrounded by their people, by staff who have taken care of and loved them for years.”
When Is the Right Time for Hospice?
Hospice is designed to serve people who have about six months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course.
There are signs it might be time to elect hospice, such as if your loved one’s health is declining and they are spending more of their time sleeping or in bed or if their symptoms make it difficult to leave their room or participate in community activities.
Walters-Zucco says 9 out of 10 times it’s the assisted living care team that starts the hospice conversation with families. “Because we have such long-standing relationships with our families — we consider our families like our extended families — we can have those conversations: ‘I know you’ve noticed your mom is declining. I think it’s time for hospice. We want her to be comfortable. We want her to be able to stay here through her end of life.’”
Having the conversation early and embracing end-of-life care decreases the family’s likelihood of having traumatic experiences and prepares family members for their loved one’s death.
“We don’t want to be in a crisis,” Walters-Zucco says. “We don't want to send her to an emergency room. This is a thoughtful way to plan a peaceful passing in her home.”
By making arrangements to receive hospice care in your loved one’s assisted living community, your family can focus on spending time with your loved one.
To learn more about hospice care at The Arbors, schedule a tour today.