What Hospice Nurses Do

They play many roles, both for patients and loved ones

Nurse and Elderly Patient
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Hospice nurses are vital members of the hospice care team, providing many aspects of care in a variety of different roles. You and your family can choose hospice care in your own home, in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or even in a hospital. Most people experience a combination of hospice care settings, relying on several hospice nurses throughout the hospice process.

Hospice Care and Staff

Hospice care is a way to continue to receive modified medical care when you expect to die from a terminal illness within approximately six months. The philosophy of hospice care is based on the belief that every person who is terminally ill has the right to die with dignity and without pain, and that the family also deserves compassionate care and support.

If you choose hospice towards the end of your life, you will be cared for by a team of healthcare professionals who provide medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to your wishes. Once you select a hospice agency, you will meet several nurses who will play an integral role in your care.

How a Hospice Nurse May Help You

Hospice nurses work to directly care for patients and to support the family. You should not hesitate to ask your hospice nurse to explain your medical situation to you. You can also share your concerns and fears about the practical aspects of end-of-life issues, as hospice nurses are experienced in dealing with this emotional time in a person's life.

A hospice nurse can help:

  • Advocate for practical patient care according to your wishes
  • Share your/your family's questions and concerns with the physicians
  • Explain the medical situation to loved ones
  • Be a sounding board when you deliberate your decisions
  • Reassure you that you have carefully thought through your decisions
  • Provide emotional support
  • Help you and your family access spiritual support
  • Be there at the time of death

Roles

Hospice nurses are the cornerstone of hospice care, coordinating the overall care plan, teaching you how to take care of things on your own, providing hands-on care, and giving advice over the phone when necessary. During the duration of your hospice care, you are likely to receive care from nurses who perform the following functions:

Intake Admission Nurse

The hospice intake admission nurse is responsible for assessing your need and readiness for hospice, and consults with the hospice physician before accepting you into the program.

Before you begin hospice care, your intake admission nurse will review your medical charts, talk with you and your family, and explain the process and philosophy of hospice. You will work together to decide on the level of hospice care you will receive and devise a plan.

Intake admission nurses often coordinate care between the different team members, including doctors, nurses, therapists, and dietitians. The plan includes decisions about how your care will be paid for, whether you plan to stay at home or somewhere else, whether there are situations that would prompt you to move, and how often you would like visits from your case manager nurse.

Case Manager Nurse

Your hospice case manager nurse is responsible for assessing and managing your overall plan of care. Once you are admitted, your hospice case manager nurse will do a complete assessment of your needs and fill the hospice physician's orders for your medication and equipment. You will also discuss which tasks you and your family can do for yourself (such as changing catheters, administering medication injections) and which you need assistance with.

Your hospice case manager nurse will regularly visit you and will begin the process of teaching you what you need to do on your own, how to recognize the need to call for assistance, and how to call for help. Ideally, only one case manager nurse is assigned to you to foster a trusting relationship and allow for continuity of care.

Visit Nurse

A hospice visit nurse will visit you when you have immediate needs if your case manager is not available. Hospice visit nurses may also be responsible for following up on routine care, such as wound care.

If you are staying at an assisted living facility or a nursing home, you may see staff hospice nurses or you may get visits from a visiting nurse, depending on the type of facility. Most hospice agencies have visit nurses on call after hours to take care of urgent needs and to attend deaths.

Triage Nurse

The hospice triage nurse is available to take phone calls from you or your family if you are staying at home. Over the phone, your triage nurse will assess your situation and may give you instructions for symptom management or medical treatment. The triage nurse consults with the hospice physician and notifies the case manager or visit nurse if there's a need for a visit.

A Word From Verywell

If you or a loved one opt for hospice care at the end of life, it can be a comforting experience. Hospice nurses are familiar with terminal illness and can guide you through what to expect and how to maximize comfort.

Most of the time, hospice nurses get along well with dying patients and their families. If you have any concerns, or if your hospice nurse doesn't seem to be a fit for you and your loved ones, let the agency or facility know. Finding the right match is an important part of your hospice experience.

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