Former President Jimmy Carter began receiving hospice care in late February, 2023

In late February, 2023, Former President Jimmy Carter made an announcement that he had "decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention."

While many interpret hospice care as death care, it has been over two months since the announcement and President Carter is still alive and continues to receive palliative/comfort care with hospice. We do not hear about this often in the news, but it is more commonly experienced than we know.

Virginia Chamlee wrote in April 2023:

"The goal of hospice is to ease the suffering of those in their final stage of life — physically, through the administering of medications, but also mentally and spiritually. Hospice programs also cater to loved ones with things like grief counseling and training."

“A misconception is that the average length of stay in hospice is for the last several days of someone's life," explains Jonathan Fleece, president and CEO of Empath Health, one of the largest not-for-profit hospice organizations in the country. "The average length of stay nationally is in the 60- to 70-day range."

Fleece adds that while many think of hospice as 24/7 care, it all depends on a patient's own situation. "A lot of hospice care is not 24/7. It's in and out of the home and working with the family and caregiver to be able to support their loved one," he says. "So we teach them a lot of different ways to help, whether it's helping with bathing or administering medication or keeping them comfortable."

As Fleece explains, hospice care is not only meant for those at their end of life, but for their family members, as well. "Hospice also provides caregivers and families the resources they need.” That includes guiding family members through the grief and bereavement process, including the period of "anticipatory grief," in which the family and patient know that death is coming.

"We hear all the time from families and patients, 'I wish someone had explained the scale and depth and breadth of what hospice can bring sooner.'"

Hospice also, of course, provides full medical care, as well as spirituality support. Some programs even cover things like Reiki and music therapy. "Nobody truly knows the timetable of [death] and while we can still treat symptoms, we specialize in taking away the suffering — the physical toll of suffering and the anxiety and sleeplessness and the emotional and spiritual side, too."

It was in 1982, shortly after President Carter left office, when a federal bill made hospice a benefit under Medicare, allowing millions of Americans to receive end-of-life care due to policies that were advocated for during his administration.

About President Carter's choice to utilize hospice care Fleece surmises: "I think he not only felt that that was the best choice for him and his family but I also think in a very admirable way, he wants to intentionally put hospice into the American conversations, as perhaps one of his final acts."

One of our goals at Hospice SLO County is to normalize the experience of having a life limiting illness as well as the dying process. We provide support well before the end of life as well as at the end of life in conjunction with the medical hospices that serve our county. Because we do not depend on Medicare or other insurance reimbursement, we can provide comfort and focus on living life to its fullest years before medical hospice gets involved.

Please reach out if you would like more information about our services.