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Hospice is a type of care which focuses on the care of a terminally ill patient. It’s a form of medical care or treatment of symptoms that concentrates on reducing the severity of the disease symptoms, rather than striving to halt, delay or reverse progression of the disease. The symptoms can be physical, emotional, spiritual or social in nature. This type of care is called “palliative care,“ from the Latin word Palliare (to cloak.) The definition of “hospice” has evolved over the centuries. For many years, hospices were places of hospitality for the sick, wounded or dying, as well as a place for travelers and pilgrims. The modern concept of hospice includes palliative care for the incurably ill given in such institutions as hospitals or nursing homes, but also in the patients’ own homes. It began to emerge in the 17th century, but many of the foundational principles by which modern hospice services operate were pioneered in the 1950s by Dame Cicely Saunders. Although the movement has met with some resistance, hospice has rapidly expanded, especially through the United States and the United Kingdom. The basic goal of hospice is to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for people facing serious illness and/or death.

Hospice in the United States has grown from a volunteer-led movement to improve care for people dying alone, isolated, or in hospitals, to a significant part of the health care system. In 2008, 1.45 million individuals and their families received hospice care. Hospice is the only Medicare benefit that includes pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, twenty-four hour/seven day a week access to care and support for loved ones following a death. Hospice care is also covered by Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Most hospice care is delivered at home. Hospice care is also available to people in home-like hospice residences, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, veterans' facilities, hospitals, and prisons.

The hospice movement has grown dramatically in the United Kingdom since Dame Cicely Saunders opened St. Christopher's. These services together helped over 250,000 patients in 2003 and 2004. Funding varies from 100% funding by the National Health Service to almost 100% funding by charities, but the service is always free to patients. As of 2006 about four percent of all deaths in England and Wales occurred in a hospice setting (about 20,000 patients.) A large number of other patients also spent time in a hospice, or were helped by hospice-based support services, but died elsewhere.

Hospice care is growing in other countries, as well. Japan opened its first hospice in 1981, the first hospice opened in Israel in 1983 and India’s first hospice opened in Bombay in 1986. The first hospice in China opened in Shanghai in 1988. The first hospice unit in Taiwan, where the term for hospice translates "peaceful care", was opened in 1990. The first free-standing hospice in Hong Kong, where the term for hospice translates "well-ending service", opened in 1992, and the first hospice in Russia opened in 1997.


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