Who Knew? Hospice Is a Business. What That Means for All of Us

Anna N. Rahman, PhD

Disclosures

Gerontologist. 2017;57(1):12-18. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

A seasoned gerontologist whose work has explored end-of-life care, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I undertook care for my brother Jim. In April 2014, Jim, whose health was then declining rapidly due to liver cancer, moved from his apartment in Minneapolis to my house in Santa Monica. Jim had come for a liver transplant evaluation at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). When the UCLA team declined to list him—his cancer was just too widespread—Jim elected to stay with my family and me, enrolling in hospice. I did my homework when shopping for a hospice provider. Colleagues in the field gave me referrals. I googled their recommendations and read the reviews. I interviewed admissions counselors. When Jim signed the admission papers, I was confident that we were in good hands with the agency we selected. For the most part, we were. Hospice is widely considered an effective program. Studies show that it prevents pain and suffering among dying patients and increases satisfaction with care. Although other health care programs are regularly pilloried in the press, hospice programs are often lauded. Indeed, they sometimes appear so mission driven that one might mistake them for charities. They are not. Whether for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises, they are businesses—and concerned about their bottom line. Through Jim's story and mine, this article highlights the implications of this business orientation for patients and providers. Methods for evaluating hospice programs nationally are critiqued. Finally, recommendations for improving the business of hospice care are offered.

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