By Chris Haring

For nearly four decades, the U.S. has recognized the crucial role hospice workers play in providing end-of-life care for terminally ill patients.

Since 1986, every November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month – when we pay tribute to the dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to provide compassionate care to those in the final stages of life. 

Hospice care is vital in helping individuals maintain their dignity, autonomy, and comfort as they approach their deaths, and caregivers are the unsung heroes who support patients and their families through the most challenging times.

Hospice began to gain traction in the 1970s

As we know it today, the practice is a modern concept that emerged in the mid-20th century. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ landmark 1969 book On Death and Dying helped open a broader social conversation, as speaking openly and practically about death became less taboo. (The doctor would later provide her testimony to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1972, advocating for the rights of the terminally ill).

In 1963, Dame Cicely Saunders gave a groundbreaking lecture at Yale University about the topic, and four years later, she established the world’s first specialized center, St. Christopher’s Hospice, in the United Kingdom. Yale School of Nursing Dean Florence Wald observed and worked there, later founding its first American counterpart, Connecticut Hospice, in 1974.

Through the next several decades, the development of hospice care continued to gain momentum, with the first National Symposium on Hospice Care in 1975 and the establishment of the National Hospice Organization in 1979. In 1982, Congress passed a provision to create a Medicare hospice benefit, and the National Hospice Foundation (founded in 1992) aired a series of public service television advertisements in the early 2000s.

With hospices now established, improving and expanding care takes precedence

In the 21st century, advocacy organizations’ focus largely shifted from patients to caregivers, with coordinated campaigns to promote the profession. With the demand for hospice professionals continuously rising, the need for better recruiting, training, and compensation for these critical roles has increasingly come to the forefront of industry-related discussions.

There is an inherent overlap between the concepts of palliative care and expanded end-of-life options, as the majority of patients who choose medical aid in dying also enroll in hospice. For this reason (and many more), we are expressing our heartfelt gratitude to those undertaking such emotionally and physically demanding tasks, providing care and support for individuals facing challenging circumstances. 

Ultimately, hospice advocates and Death with Dignity share common goals: a commitment to open, honest conversations about death and a dedication to preserving autonomy through one’s final days. 

This month, we want to honor and say thank you to all essential caregivers who dedicate their time to supporting patients at the end of life.

Source: National Today