In February 2023, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that he was entering hospice care. Over six months into his hospice care, Former President Carter is still receiving the care he needs at his home in Georgia. Hospice has long been a word with negative connotations, becoming synonymous with imminent death. When a loved one hears the word ‘hospice’ from a doctor, they believe that hope is lost, and someone’s passing is impending. That couldn’t be further from the truth about hospice care.

According to the National Institute on Aging, hospice care “focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life.”  Hospice is often elected when a patient has no possible treatment options or elects not to undergo continued treatment for a life-limiting illness, and the medical care received switches from curing the patient to ensuring the patient is comfortable.

At the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA), our hospice care provides the following:

  • Managing pain and symptoms – help controlling pain and symptoms through medication management and non-clinical therapy services.
  • Medication management – help monitoring and administering medication.
  • Care wherever you call home – providing care at your home, an assisted living facility, the hospital, or the VNA Hospice House.
  • Counseling and support – support from bereavement counselors, social workers and chaplains who help guide the patient and family through this time.
  • Personal care – help with bathing, grooming and personal care.
  • Volunteer support – support from volunteers for companionship, respite for the caregiver, or help running errands.
  • Hospice care has specific guidelines for eligibility; typically, it is for patients with a life-limiting illness who have a prognosis of six months or less and are no longer seeking curative treatments. Additionally, a physician’s referral is needed before a patient can receive hospice care. The VNA’s mission is focused on ensuring all our patients experience optimal quality of life at all times, the cornerstone of the definition of hospice care.

    It’s often the myths pertaining to “what is hospice” that prevent patients from starting hospice at a time when they would most benefit from it. Many times, patients only receive hospice care for a few days prior to their death. Former President Carter’s announcement was a gift from a very philanthropic man, a gift of knowledge and understanding of hospice that he shared with the world. Now six months into his hospice care, Former President Carter exemplifies the fact that hospice is not just for that last week or those last few days before someone passes. Hospice is a care plan focused on the comfort of the patient so that they can live those last few months with dignity and optimal quality of life. It creates an environment that removes the biggest fears people have about death – being in pain, being alone, and being a burden to others.

    Former President Jimmy Carter will be remembered for many accomplishments – his presidency, his philanthropic endeavors, and his Nobel Peace Prize to name a few. For the VNA, we are forever grateful that he decided to put a spotlight on hospice care, bringing awareness to millions of what hospice truly is and hopefully dispelling the many myths surrounding the word. We can only hope that his announcement will make it easier for patients and families to elect hospice care, knowing it’s about living more than dying.