Tips to find the right hospice care for a loved one

Published 2:40 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2022


While more people are turning to hospice care for comfort in their final days, a study shows that rural areas are not as advanced in end-of-life care as metropolitan areas.

But regardless of whether someone lives in a city or in the country, it’s crucial for families of terminally ill patients to know what constitutes highly professional hospice care and how to navigate the process, says Debbie Johnston (, author of The Hospice Handbook: Nurse Debbie’s Compassionate Guide To Navigating End-Of-Life Care.

“Educated patients and families have better hospice care experiences,” says Johnston, a long-time health care entrepreneur and founder of hospice care companies. “Love and care are what hospice care is about.

“Every stage of life matters. We need to put more energy toward supporting the needs of our families, friends, and neighbors entering the last stage of their lives.”

Johnston offers these tips on how to choose and navigate hospice care:


  • Who and what to ask: Johnston suggests calling the help line (800-658-8898) at the National Hospice And Palliative Care Organization. “Also check in with any healthcare professionals you trust or families who have experienced hospice care,” she says. “In terms of choosing a hospice care agency, one avenue is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); it has a web-based “hospice compare” tool  that allows people to compare ratings of Medicare-certified hospices.”


Johnston says these are some key questions to ask:


    • Is the hospice Medicare-certified?
    • Has the hospice been surveyed by a state or federal oversight agency in the last five years?
    • Is the organization an NHPCO member, and does it comply with all aspects of NHPCO’s standards for hospice programs?
    • Are clinical staff – physicians, advanced practice nurses, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, and chaplains – certified or credentialed in hospice and palliative care?
    • Will staff come to the home if there is a crisis at any time of the day or night and on weekends? Who is available to make the home visits?


  • Consider the many roles of a strong hospice team. “Your hospice team members should be reliable, compassionate and smart because they are well-trained,” Johnston says. The doctor can be one provided by hospice or the patient’s own doctor, she says, and the rest of the team includes registered nurses, social workers, a chaplain, counselors, and perhaps a speech, occupational and/or physical therapist. “The team’s goal is to keep the patient pain-free as possible, to control symptoms, and to support the patient anyway they can,” Johnston says. “They’ll interact with and coach the patient’s family about caregiving skills. They’re extremely familiar with end-of-life scenarios, and they will hold your terminally ill loved one’s hand as they walk that road with them and the family.”


  • Get a medical power of attorney. With a medical power of attorney, you can appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapable of making those decisions yourself. “This is one of the most comforting things you can do for yourself and your loved ones,” Johnston says.


Debbie Johnston ( is the author of The Hospice Handbook: Nurse Debbie’s Compassionate Guide To Navigating End-Of-Life Care.