Right now there are about 1.1 million people in hospice care. These people are supposed to die within 180 days or else.
Or else what?
What happens if they miss their deadline? And what happens if their deadlines get missed a lot?
And deadlines do get missed a lot, according to a new article from Bloomberg News. Over 20% of the people in hospice stay longer than 180 days, and an incredible 200,000 get out hospice alive every year.
The fact that people survive hospice worries people like Robert Berenson, an Urban Institute fellow and an adviser to Congress.
"The potential for hospice to neglect these people and then abandon them when they do not decline is a major quality challenge," as he puts it, using the language of bureaucrats.
In plain English, hospices keep people comfortable until they die. They don't help people get well. The typical hospice patient sees a doctor every 100 days, which means most patients never see one.
One such man who was neglected and abandoned in hospice care was Charles Groomes. He entered Horizon Hospice, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA, in 2007 and was given 180 days to live. One of the doctors who later examined him said he "clearly was not dying" when he entered hospice, and all he really needed drug rehabilitation and care for a heart condition.
Just as you'd imagine, Charles Groomes grew depressed during his 32 months in hospice. He told his family that he felt "worthless" just lying around hospice, and the idea that he was dying destroyed his will to live. He especially got depressed making a "good-bye" video, which the nurses urged him to make for his family and loved ones.
Luckily, assisted suicide was not a legal option for Charles Groomes in Pennsylvania.
Assisted suicide is, however, legal in Washington, Montana, and Oregon, and it may soon be legal in several other states.
This leaves open the possibility that the thousands of people in hospices who are not terminally ill could be offered the legal option of euthanasia. After all, they are officially dying, even though they are not.
In order to prevent this, everyone who walks out of hospice alive should be awarded a T-shirt. The "I SURVIVED HOSPICE" shirt will raise awareness that not everyone in hospice dies or needs help with suicide. As more and more people win their shirts, within four years, one million people will be wearing them! -- that's more than the population of San Francisco! and one in 300 Americans! The mind boggles.
Just as mind-boggling is the thought that all these people could be offered the "compassionate choice" of a quick painless death -- even though they are clearly not dying.
Waldman, Peter. "Hospice Turns Months-to-Live Patient Into Years of Abusing Drugs", Bloomberg News, December 30, 2011.