National Home Care and Hospice Month in November is when we honor all professionals who work in the broad field of home care and hospice work – this includes physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, physical therapists, and so much more. There are four types of hospice care: routine home care, continuous home care, general inpatient care, and respite care. Each requires a different skillset and comes with its own emotional and physical demands. The professionals who perform these services often receive very little pay, yet are committed to helping patients live and pass away with dignity. This month is for them.
History of National Home Care and Hospice Month
Home care and hospice professions have their roots in 1963 when Dame Cicely Saunders gave a lecture at Yale University on the idea of specialized care for those at the end of their lives. Only two years later, Dr. Saunders was invited to become faculty by the Dean of Yale School of Nursing, Florence Wald.
Dr. Saunders went on to establish the first hospice center, St. Christopher’s Hospice, in the UK in 1967. Florence Wald took a sabbatical to observe and work in the center two years later. In 1974, she founded Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut. In this same year, the first legislation was introduced to provide federal funds for hospice programs, though it did not pass.
Part of this legislation was spurred on by On Death and Dying, a book written by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that outlined the last stages of life for the terminally ill in a whole new way. In 1972, she testified in front of the Senate in an effort to secure rights for the terminally ill to choose their end-of-life care and to die with dignity.
Hospice care was taking off. In 1975, the first National Symposium on Hospice Care was convened in Connecticut, and in 1979 the National Hospice Organization (NHO) was established to promote hospice care as a concept. 1982 saw big gains for hospice care as Congress passed a provision to create a Medicare hospice benefit, and the NHO’s first television PSA was aired. In 1992, the National Hospice Foundation was established.
At the turn of the 21st century, the NHF launched a series of public service campaign TV ads, which won awards. A PBS series was launched, focusing on end of life care. In 2002, the 25th anniversary of the Medicare Hospice Benefit was celebrated, and the Department of Veteran’s affairs launched an effort to increase veterans’ access to hospice.
In the 2010s, great strides for hospice workers were made. Coordinated ad campaigns to promote the profession were launched, legislation to increase hospice benefits and hospice accessibility were introduced and passed, and important anniversaries and figures in the hospice effort were commemorated. Yet still, today hospice workers are not or barely paid a living wage, and the demand for these professions far outnumbers the number of certified professionals. These angels deserve this month of celebration!