The History of Hospice Care

Sherry Haley, RN, Clinical Liaison
Sherry Haley, RN, Clinical Liaison

In our great-grandparent's time, birth and death were common place in the family home and accepted as natural events.

Advancements in medicine have changed the dying experience to one of tests, procedures and hospitalizations, where family members are merely guests and control rests with health professionals.

In the 1970s a group of volunteers, faith leaders, healthcare workers and others began to question the cost to human dignity of this so called "progress." This group of social change agents created a healthcare model that allows people to die on their own terms - hospice.

In 2003 more than 950,000 people and their family members received hospice care. Hospice is available in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Hospice staff and volunteers help patients and their family and friends to focus on what's most important to them, allowing people to spend time together, share memories, say goodbyes, find peace or care for one another.

This time is often difficult, yet many families report that hospice helped them to care for their loved one and find meaning and even joy in the final days of life.   Dame Cicely Saunders (founder of the first modern hospice, in London in 1968) summed up the hospice philosophy best when she told her patients: "You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die."