What is Hospice

understanding hospice

  • Hospice is a special concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families when a life-limiting illness no longer responds to cure-oriented treatments.
  • Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death. Hospice staff and volunteers offer a specialized knowledge of medical care, including pain management.
  • The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of a patient's last days by offering comfort and dignity.
  • Hospice care is provided by a team-oriented group of specially trained professionals, volunteers and family members.
  • Hospice addresses all symptoms of a disease, with a special emphasis on controlling a patient's pain and discomfort.
  • Hospice deals with the emotional, social and spiritual impact of the disease on the patient and the patient's family and friends.
  • Hospice offers a variety of bereavement and counseling services to families before and after a patient's death.

Donate to HFAHistory
The word "hospice" stems from the Latin word "hospitium" meaning guesthouse. It was originally used to describe a place of shelter for weary and sick travelers returning from religious pilgrimages. During the 1960's, Dr. Cicely Saunders, a British physician began the modern hospice movement by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice near London. St. Christopher's organized a team approach to professional caregiving, and was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to compassionately care for the dying. The first hospice in the United States was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974.

Today there are more than 4,700 hospice programs in the United States.* Hospice programs cared for 965,000 people enrolled in Medicare in 2006,** and nearly 1.4 million people in the United States in 2007*.

Hospice is not a place but a concept of care. Eighty percent of hospice care is provided in the patient's home, family member's home and in nursing homes. Inpatient hospice facilities are sometimes available to assist with caregiving.

Back to top


* Figure from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).
** Figure from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).