It is necessary first to appreciate that hospice is not a place but a concept of caring that provides comnfort and support both to people in the final stages of a terminal illness and to their families. Hospice services are often delivered in a patient’s home, but they can also take place in hospitals, nursing homes, or residential facilities. Hospice care emphasizes the quality, not the length, of life, and generally takes a “team approach” involving medical personnel, clergy, social workers, volunteers, and counselors, among others.
There is validity to the opinion of some that the growing hospice movement is becoming the “warehouse” of bereavement information and aftercare sensitivity, since it includes involvement with families prior to deaths of many kinds. The National Hospice Organization is a nonprofit organization with more than fifteen hundred member hospice programs. It maintains an 800-number telephone HelpLine for information to members and the public. It would be unfair, however, to regard hospice professionals and programs as the ultimate sources for delivering aftercare services, since their primary mission is to provide humane, patient-centered care and patient-centered decision making. As a model and resource, for the development of multidisciplinary approaches to aftercare, however hospice is becoming an increasingly visible and valuable force in American society’s ability to look at and deal with death.