The hospice nurse is a crucial part of the Amedisys hospice care team. The hospice team takes compassionate care of patients diagnosed with a terminal illness with six months or less to live. Hospice nurses are skilled registered and licensed practical nurses who provide empathetic care for the final stages of the patients’ life. The main goal of hospice care is to focus on comfort and quality of life.
What is a hospice nurse?
A hospice nurse is a trained registered or licensed practical nurse trained to care for terminally ill patients. They work with patients, family members and other healthcare staff to ensure the patient has improved quality of life and their last days are as painless and comfortable as possible.
Each patient has an individualized care plan based on the patient’s unique physical, psychosocial, emotional and spiritual needs.
*If you are a current Amedisys patient, please contact your Care Center directly.
What does a hospice nurse do?
Hospice nurses provide a variety of roles related to patient care and provide support to families, including:
Monitoring and documenting vitals
Hospice nurses provide intermittent visits based on the patient’s needs to check on the health of a patient. The nurse updates the doctor and family caregivers about progress and needs. This includes monitoring vital signs, recording any medical concerns or issues a patient has and understanding the impact these signs and symptoms have for the patient and caregiver.
Hospice patients often take medication. Hospice nurses will educate the patient and caregiver on the medicine, including actions, effects, and side effects, and how to properly administer the medication for pain and symptom management.
Managing pain and symptoms
The central goal of hospice is pain and symptom management to help patients feel as comfortable as possible as they near the end of life.
Hospice nurses collaborate with the hospice physician and all members of the hospice team to develop a plan of care addressing the patient’s pain and other symptoms. The plan of care is adjusted throughout hospice care as the needs of the patient and caregiver change.
Nurses provide psychosocial, and emotional support to patients and caregivers. The nurse also engages other members of the interdisciplinary team, such as the social worker, to assist the psychosocial support and resources.
Nurses connect with patients and loved ones to support the patient and caregiver’s spiritual and cultural aspects of care. The hospice team works to help them feel calm and connected as they near the end of life. The nurse also engages other members of the team, such as the chaplain, to offer support with death and loss and help loved ones as they navigate the challenges posed with end-of-life care.
Connecting with caregivers
Hospice nurses educate patients and caregivers on the patient’s condition and use of medications and other strategies for care. The nurse also provides support to help the caregiver cope during this difficult time to promote a safe and comfortable dying experience and effective grieving.
Day in the Life of a Hospice Nurse
The day-to-day work of a hospice nurse is focused on the physical, psychosocial, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and their families. They work as educators when going over care instructions and new medications that patients may be unfamiliar with or scared to use. Hospice nurses visit patients on an intermittent basis based on patient and caregiver needs. As needs change, the patient’s plan of care will be updated to reflect the changing needs of the patient and caregiver. This may mean changing the visit schedule or frequency of visits to meet the needs.
For example, Tina has been a hospice nurse with Amedisys for five years. Her typical day is spent traveling to patients’ homes, nursing homes and sometimes hospitals to support her patients with a terminal illness. She provides end-of-life care and symptom management in the final weeks and days of their life and supports families by allowing patients to be comfortable before they pass. The most challenging part of her job is the grief aspect but there is no other job that she would rather have and wishes she would've found a career in hospice sooner.
Where do hospice nurses work?
Hospice nurses visit patients wherever they call home. The most common places to receive care include:
In-home hospice care
Many patients receive hospice care at home. Home offers safety, comfort and the ability to be surrounded by loved ones. Your hospice nurse will make visits to make sure your loved one is comfortable, and their symptoms are under control. Most day-to-day care is provided by a family member, friend or caregiver. The hospice nurse will educate and train you to make your job easier. If an urgent need arises, you can contact the on-call hospice team member 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Hospice care in a nursing/long-term care facility
Your loved one can receive hospice in a nursing facility, assisted living or skilled nursing facility, depending on the level of care they need. The hospice nurse visits and provides specialized hospice services while the rest of the day-to-day care is provided by the facility staff.
Some hospice programs have their own hospice facilities. A hospice center is a good choice when the patient:
- Needs 24/7 care
- Needs more help with symptom management
- Doesn’t have a caregiver at home who can provide the care needed
Hospice care in the hospital
Hospice care provided in the hospital helps with symptoms that can’t be managed at home or in a nursing facility. The goal is to get symptoms under control so the patient can go back home, to a hospice facility, or return to the facility where they reside.
How do the duties of a hospice nurse differ from other nurses?
One of the main roles of a hospice nurse is to provide compassionate care and help ensure the patient is free from any avoidable pain and suffering. The goal of a traditional nurse in a hospital setting is to help heal patients, whereas a hospice nurse ensures the terminally ill patients are as comfortable as possible once the patient has stopped seeking curative treatment.
Hospice nurses are critical in managing pain and symptoms, offering support, and educating patient and caregivers on providing care.
Hospice nurses also focus on the psychosocial, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and their loved ones in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team which includes physicians, social workers, chaplains and bereavement support.
Hospice Nursing Care Cost
How is hospice paid for? Hospice care costs are covered by the Medicare hospice benefit, Medicaid and most private insurance plans, with options for those who don’t have insurance.
Paying for Hospice with Medicare
Medicare covers hospice costs if the patient meets the following criteria:
- Patient has Medicare Part A
- Diagnosed with a terminal illness
- Certified by the hospice physician and their primary care physician as having six months or less to live if the disease takes its normal course
- Chooses to stop treatment to try to cure their illness, or efforts to cure their illness aren’t working
- Receives care from a Medicare-certified hospice agency
The Medicare hospice benefit offers comprehensive coverage for hospice care costs; however, there may be some additional expenses like copayments.
Paying for Hospice with Medicaid
In most states, Medicaid covers hospice for those who have low income and assets. Medicaid hospice eligibility criteria vary by state, but typically include:
- Certification from a physician that the patient is terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months or less (up to one year in some states).
- Comfort care, not treatment designed to cure the terminal illness.
Paying for hospice with private health insurance
Many private insurance companies cover hospice care often paying the full cost. Be sure to confirm the following:
- If there are qualifications the patient must meet to receive hospice benefits
- Which hospice services are covered under the plan
- If there are any limits on hospice expenses
- If the patient will be responsible for copays and deductibles
Paying for hospice without insurance
There are several options for patients who want hospice care but don’t have insurance. These include:
- Veteran’s Benefits
- Charity care
- Private pay
How to Find a Nurse for Hospice
Are you or your loved one in need of end-of-life care? Complete the form below or contact one of our hospice locations near you to speak to a specialist.