John O'Connor

What’s the best eldercare development we’ve seen in the past quarter century? For my money, nothing compares to the ongoing expansion of hospice care services.

Not only is hospice first in line, it keeps getting better. When my terminally ill mother entered one of these programs more than a decade ago, she had to stop getting treated for the lung cancer that was ruining her health. That is no longer the case.

Hospice professionals don’t just talk about the need to control pain, reduce anxiety, offer spiritual and emotional support and improve life quality. They actually do it. Day after day. Thanks to hospice care, many terminally ill people can now live in less agony and more comfort than was once possible.

So it’s hardly a surprise that hospice care has become mighty common in the skilled care sector. After all, this is often the setting where the oldest and sickest among us live out their final days. The field should feel rightfully proud of the amazing work it is doing here.

But maybe it shouldn’t get all puffy-chested quite yet. A new report shows that the sector is not exactly lapping the competition. People generally rate hospice services higher when it is delivered at home or in a senior living community, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In fact, more than two thirds (67.8%) of family members of those who received care at home reported that hospice care was excellent, compared to 64.3% for assisted living and 55.1% for nursing homes.

To be sure, few people may be thrilled to find themselves living in a nursing home. Frankly, there may not be a whole lot you as a skilled care operator can do about that.

But here’s a place where you can do better: keeping your customers informed. Families of skilled care residents were most likely to report that they did not receive information on pain medications used or treatments for breathing problems.

In the grand scheme, that might seem to be a trifling point. But this deficit does illustrate an area where improvements are possible.

And when it comes to hospice care, there’s no excuse for doing anything less than all that can be done.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.