Navigating Hospice: What You Need to Know

Nurse with Patient

Considering and beginning hospice care are sensitive times not only for the individual, but for their loved ones too. As you consider hospice for your loved one, you might feel overwhelmed from the unknown. Here are answers to a few questions to help as you begin this journey.

What is hospice?

Those who receive hospice care are seeking comfort and compassion as they near the end of life. The goal of hospice is to help the patient rest comfortably. Caregivers with Signature Healthcare at Home focus on providing comfort, companionship, and peace.

They provide care wherever the individual calls home, whether it be their own home, a skilled nursing facility, assisted living community, or an adult foster home.

What does hospice care involve?

Hospice care includes four levels of care: routine home care, continuous care, general inpatient care, and respite care.

Routine home care

Routine home care is a starting point for most patients in hospice it allows the patient to live wherever they call home while receiving the care they need to help them feel comfortable. Routine home care involves regular visits from a chaplain, nurse, nursing assistant, social worker, and volunteers.

Continuous care

When medically necessary, hospice can provide round-the-clock care for a period up to 24 hours/day so the patient can avoid hospitalization. This care is provided for brief periods when the patient has high needs with a combination of a hospice nurse or aide. Some of these symptoms include severe pain, trouble breathing, and nausea.

General inpatient care

This includes any needs that can’t be managed at home. Patients needing this type of care are sent to a hospital or inpatient unit until their symptoms are alleviated enough to be able to return to their home.

Respite care

Respite care is provided to give family caregivers a break. Taking care of a loved one can be taxing – it can even become a full-time job. Those who need time away can send their loved one for respite care so they can rest and return to care for their loved one feeling refreshed.

How will I know when it’s time to consider hospice?

The right time for hospice is different for each individual and family. Hospice is an individualized approach to end-of-life care. It meets the patient wherever they are in their care.

You can know when it’s time based on your own assessment and physician recommendations.

If you notice a steady decline in a loved one’s ability to complete everyday activities and thrive in their home, it might be time to consider hospice. Recent and frequent hospitalization, doctor visits, and skilled nursing stays are a few factors to watch for.

Talk with a physician to discuss what will work best for your loved one.

My family member is ready for hospice. Where do I begin?

People who qualify for hospice have a life expectancy of six months or less. To determine if your loved one is ready for hospice, he or she needs recommendations from two physicians. They will determine the life expectancy based on a physical assessment, medical history, and other diagnoses. Find out more about hospice qualifications here.

Who will care for my loved one?

Many people are involved in making sure your loved one is as comfortable as possible. Chaplains, medical directors, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, and volunteers are just a few of the people who care for your loved one.

How will caregivers help my loved one?

Nurses focus on providing comfort physically through regular assessments and symptom management. Additionally, they help alleviate pain and answer any questions their patient and family members have. All hospice caregivers provide emotional support by listening, answering questions, and overall being an outlet where their patient can voice concerns. They become their patient’s safety net.

Will their daily life be different with hospice care?

Patients in hospice care continue to live life as they have been. Hospice care is an intermittent service. They will receive visits from a nurse to help with pain management and answering questions. If needed, an aide will come along to help with daily living activities such as bathing and dressing.

They’ll also receive visits from a social worker – hospice social workers are experts in navigating the end of life process. They provide emotional support, and work to promote well-being for the patient, and their caregivers. Social workers also provide resources to make sure patients and families are prepared economically. This includes ensuring your loved one has an advanced directive and contact with family members.

How long does hospice care last?

Hospice is an elected benefit meant to serve patients the last six months of their lives. Your loved one is welcome to remain in hospice care as long as they meet the criteria.

Some patients remain on hospice longer than six months and some improve and graduate from hospice care, moving on to independent living or home health. Others remain in hospice care and receive help and comfort as they prepare to pass.

Do I have support?

You absolutely have support. We understand navigating the end of life can be a challenging time for the whole family. Signature Healthcare at Home offers programs to help family members through grief.


Volunteers visit with patients; they sit and talk, walk together, listen to music, and provide companionship. Some volunteers even bring pets so patients can snuggle with their furry friends. Patients adore pet visits, according to Kaitlyn Brewington, Signature’s Portland Hospice Administrator. It truly brings a healing presence, she said.

The volunteer program isn’t only a benefit for the patient. It gives people whose family members have received hospice in the past an opportunity to give back, according to Camie Tripp, Signature’s Director of Operations in Eastern Idaho and Utah.

“Volunteers are a crucial part of the hospice service,” she said.

No One Dies Alone

The No One Dies Alone program stands as support when the only care the individual needs is love and companionship. Volunteers gather at the bedside during the patient’s last few days of life to provide much-needed love and support.

Support groups

Families can also receive help through support groups. These include groups Signature has formed and recommended community groups and agencies.

Bereavement care programs offer help 13 months after a loved one’s passing. A six-week grief group provides education and counseling on coping with grief. For support during the holidays, join others for a memorial service during the holiday season – open to all, whether or not your family member received hospice care.

Support is available to you. Please contact your local hospice location to find out how to take advantage of these opportunities.

We’re here for you

Our clinicians offer support and education in preparing to say goodbye to a loved one. They understand the death process and can walk family members through what to expect. Our clinicians are here to answer your questions and address concerns. Having answers to the unknown can help as you navigate this challenging time.

Please know you don’t have to do this alone. We are here for you, and we want to support you.

Find out more about hospice and our support programs here.