Over the last few years, I’ve had numerous conversations with individuals whose loved ones are facing terminal illnesses.  They call Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg(HHSCW) looking for guidance because they aren’t really sure how to begin having end of life conversations with their loved ones or even how to obtain a medical hospice agency.  Often, they do not know that HHSCW and medical hospice agencies work together in our area to provide quality end of life care in our community.

One of the questions that nine times out of 10 arises in these kinds of conversations is: “What hospice agency should I choose?”

This is a really good question given the fact that the Williamsburg, Virginia area is now served by 14 medical hospice agencies.  That’s right: 14! (For a list of these agencies, click here.)

Deciding on one out of 14 agencies can feel overwhelming for many people, especially when dealing with the emotional weight of terminal illness.  Furthermore, not all medical hospice agencies and facilities are equal.  As in every realm of consumer healthcare, there are hospice agencies that provide quality care and those for whom patient satisfaction is a challenge.

However, choosing a medical hospice agency doesn’t have to be an arduous process, and the US government along with several national healthcare entities have taken some recent steps to make choosing a hospice easier.

In August of 2017 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the launch of its Hospice Compare website to improve consumer experiences and empower patients.

This site provides a snapshot of the quality of care hospice medical facilities and hospice medical agencies provide their patients.

Upon visiting the website (https://www.medicare.gov/hospicecompare/) a user can input the name of any hospice agency or facility in the U.S. and receive a report with the following information:

  1. The contact information of the Hospice Agency/Facility
  2. The Hospice Agency’s/Facility’s Ownership status (for-profit/non-profit)
  3. The date on which the hospice agency/facility received certification
  4. Patient Preferences Data
  5. Managing Pain and Treating Symptoms Data

The data provided on this website demonstrates how the hospice agency or facility rates in elements such as patient pain management and initial assessments against a national average.  By searching through this data, health care consumers can find hospices in their area with the highest averages to ensure that they and their loved ones receive quality care at the end of life.

In addition to producing a website portal, the CMS compiled a checklist of suggested questions to ask when choosing a hospice agency.  This list includes questions about everything from insurance acceptance to emotional support provided to the patient and family.  This is a great list for any caregiver or patient to read through when having initial conversations with medical hospice agencies.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) has also produced some guiding literature on choosing a hospice agency.  In 2014, this nonprofit membership organization, came out with a set of guideline questions entitled, “Choosing a Quality Hospice for You or Your Loved Ones.”  Questions include everything from, “Is the hospice certified?” to “What extra services does the hospice offer?”  This document is a good tool for determining whether medical hospice agencies have the basic requirements to provide quality care for you or your loved one.

If you are inclined toward lists, another document that can be helpful as you search for a medical hospice agency or facility is, “Choosing A Hospice: 16 Questions to Ask”, written by the American Hospice Foundation (AHF).  This is another good starting point for determining whether the hospice agency you have been referred to will be a quality care provider and a good fit for you and/or your loved one.  One of the important tips provided on this list is to remember to get references for the hospice agencies you are considering.  Ask your family members, friends, local hospitals and area clinicians about their experiences with these medical entities.  Word of mouth can go a long way.  And remember: just because you pick one hospice agency does not mean that you have to stay with that hospice agency.  It is ok to shop around, especially if you or your loved one do not have a good consumer experience with a hospice agency.

One of the most important facts about HHSCW is that we partner with ALL medical hospice agencies to provide care to those at end-of-life in our community.  No matter which agency you choose, you can come to stay in our beautiful Hospice House.  Our Clinical Director, Heidi Crocker, RN works diligently to network with all of the hospice providers in our area to ensure that those who wish to spend their days with us can do so.  Keep in mind: you or your loved one do not have to come to us solely in the final hours of life.  The Hospice House functions also as a respite house for family members who may need relief from caring around the clock for loved ones facing life-limiting illness.  You or your loved one can come to stay with us for weeks at a time and we will take care of them free of charge, all made possible by the generosity of the Williamsburg community.

If you or your loved one have questions about admittance to Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg or about the care we provide in our Hospice House, please contact us at 757-253-1220.


*Stay tuned for our next post: “Understanding the Relationship Between a Medical Hospice Agency and a Social Model Hospice.”

Audrey Smith is the Executive Director of Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg (HHSCW). HHSCW is a social-model hospice that cares for people at the end of life, comforts the bereaved and empowers others to do the same. The Hospice House itself is a spacious residence that is a home away from home for our guests and their families. Support care services range from companionship in families' homes to extensive bereavement programs provided to families throughout the community. Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg is a 501(c)(3) organization that is entirely funded by contributions. No family or individual ever receives a bill for our services and support; nor do we accept Medicare, Medicaid or other reimbursements. For more information or to make a gift, please call Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg at 757-253-1220 or visit www.williamsburghospice.org.


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