The History of Hospice Care

| By Casa de la Luz
In conversations with people who don’t work in hospice, or have never had a hospice experience, it’s easy to see how a lot of myths still surround the concept of hospice services. Here’s a little bit of information about how hospice developed into the care that it is today.
The word hospice stems from the Latin word hospitium, meaning hospitality. Early on in its history, hospice provided lodging and care for the weary and the dying. Today, it’s a philosophy and model for compassionate, holistic, end of life care. 
Hospice care, as we know and define it today, was founded by Dame Cicely Saunders. She was a physician who founded the first hospice—St. Christopher’s Hospice in the London area in 1967.
Dame Cicely Saunders was key to developing the whole-person program that hospice care is today. She created an approach that emphasized pain management, emotional and spiritual support, and family counseling. She was also instrumental in spreading the message about hospice care, so that hospice could evolve into the accepted healthcare option that it is today. 
Saunders introduced the United States to the concept of hospice care in 1963 when she spoke at Yale University, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. At that lecture was Florence Wald, dean of Yale’s School of Nursing. Wald was so moved by the lecture that she eventually moved to London to work at St. Christopher’s. She then returned to the States and founded Connecticut Hospice in 1974, the first hospice in America. Connecticut Hospice continues to operate today in Branford, Conn.
Another key moment in the history of hospice care was the release of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, On Death and Dying. Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of dying, and made an argument for caring for patients at home and giving them a say in their care planning.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization was founded in 1978, and is a nonprofit membership organization that represents hospice and palliative care organizations and professionals. The palliative care representation of the organization was added in 2000, as hospices began including palliative care programs and services.
Another turning point for hospice care was the enactment of the Medicare Hospice Benefit. The benefit was first enacted by Congress in 1982, and was made permanent by Congress in 1986, after years of slowly gaining recognition as a viable concept and form of healthcare services for terminally ill patients.
By Carrie Bui, Communications Specialist
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