Breaking down myths of hospice and palliative care

By Lindsay Gagnon, MSN, FNP-BC, ACHPN

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.” – Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement

As a nurse practitioner, I have been working with patients and their families as they navigate serious illness for the last seven years, first at The University of Vermont Medical Center in Palliative Care and now with The University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice. In my role at Colchester’s McClure Miller Respite House, I am privileged to be part of an interdisciplinary team that provides hospice care for patients and their families at the end of life. Over the course of my career, I have often been asked about the difference between palliative care and hospice. The Center to Advance Palliative Care explains:

  • “Palliative care is specialized health care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and family;
  • Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.” https://www.capc.org/about/palliative-care/

What is hospice?

Hospice is:

  • A type of palliative care that is for patients and their families living with a terminal illness, when someone is estimated to be in the final six months of life;
  • A transition from curative treatments that focuses on optimizing quality of life and alleviating symptoms to help someone live as well as possible through the end of life;
  • Provided by an interdisciplinary team made up of nurses, nursing assistants, personal care attendants, social workers, chaplains, physicians, nurse practitioners and volunteers who work together seamlessly to provide the best care possible for each individual patient and family;
  • Care that can occur in many places, most commonly at home with care provided by family and friends. It can also can occur in a skilled nursing facility or at a dedicated hospice facility like the McClure Miller Respite House.

Supporting clients and families

When I talk about my work, people often tell me how hard my job must be caring for people who are at the end of their lives and dying. My response is that people are going through this regardless of whether or not I am involved. And so if by being involved my hospice team and I can help ease any suffering clients might experience and also support the family in their grief, then that can make all the difference.

If you are interested in learning more about how palliative care or hospice could support you or your loved ones, please reach out to us at The University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice at (802) 860-4410 or at UVMHomeHealth.org.

Lindsay Gagnon, MSN, FNP-BC, ACHPN, is a Hospice and Palliative Care nurse practitioner with The University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice. She can be reached at lindsay.gagnon@uvmhomehealth.org.