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America's Broken Hospice Care System Often Makes Death Everything but Peaceful

America's Broken Hospice Care System Often Makes Death Everything but Peaceful

People who are at the end of life often choose to receive palliative rather than curative care, prioritizing quality of life during their last days.

Hospice agencies provide this type of services to millions of Americans. However, research and journalistic investigations have shown that hospices often fail to provide basic services, such as pain medication, and focus on maximizing profits, rather than their patients’ wellbeing.

The family of Evelyn Maples sued hospice care provider Vitas a few years ago.

Vitas marketers had allegedly concealed the fact that hospice services would not include life-saving, curative care for Maples. Chronic neglect eventually led to increased profits for the hospice, as the patient got worse and required increasingly expensive care. When Maples was taken from the inpatient hospice where she resided to a hospital emergency room, it was too late, and she died within a month.

Last year in Minnesota, Laure Fuerstenberg, the wife of a retired Veterans Affairs counselor, tried to reach hospice caregivers 16 times, to no avail, when her husband was dying. She was left to manage on her own.

Mr. Fuerstenberg died in excruciating pain, because the hospice had failed to provide the pain medication he needed. Mrs. Fuerstenberg has filed a complaint with the state, but she has not heard back from the authorities in over a year.

There are over 4,000 hospice agencies nationwide, which receive Medicare reimbursements. On paper, they pledge to provide 24/7 palliative care to individuals with a life expectancy under six months. In 2015, there were a total of 1.4 million Medicare patients enrolled in the system. 

According to a Kaiser Health News investigation that analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, neglect from hospice personnel is a common occurrence. Over the last half decade, 3,200 complaints have been filed.

Government inspection records show that at least 759 of the investigated hospices failed to provide the end of life care they advertised, often missing visits, failing to respond to emergency calls, and depriving patients of much-needed pain medication. Substandard hospice care providers are rarely punished, according to the investigation's results.

Hospice agencies receive about $16 billion annually from Medicare.

They are expected by both care recipients and the government to provide physical comfort and emotional support for people who wish to die peacefully and, in most cases, at home. They get paid a daily fee, depending on the level of care required, and they are supposed to be on call 24/7.  

One of the problems with holding hospices accountable has to do with the low frequency of inspections. A 2014 Huffington Post investigation found that 18% of active hospices hadn't undergone inspection in over six years.

In contrast, nursing homes must be inspected every year. Later that year, rules for hospices were tightened, and they now face inspection every three years which is still grossly inadequate.  

From false advertising to substandard palliative care offerings, hospices have been found responsible for a myriad of violations that have caused terminally ill patients and their families tremendous anxiety and pain.

As journalistic exposes shed light on the horrifying circumstances of the demise of people who innocently rely on hospice agencies, families that have suffered from substandard care need to step forward.

Research has shown that calls made when people are dying on weekends and holidays are seldom met with quick and adequate responses from hospices. This has led academics to believe that understaffing may be one of the reasons hospice care is so unreliable in the US today.

The families of people who signed up for a service that vowed to provide physical and emotional comfort during their last days are entitled to reparations. Hospice agencies that administer treatments to maximize profits must be held accountable.

If you or a loved one have had to endure some of these inhumane circumstances, call us right now for a free consultation as there are strict time limits on making claims and our legal team can often stop the misconduct while our investigators uncover the real story. 833.201.1555 or REPORT HOSPICE NEGLECT ONLINE

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