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History of Hospice Care

Hospice: A Historical Perspective

The term “hospice” (from the same linguistic root as “hospitality”) can be traced back to medieval times when it referred to a place of shelter and rest for weary or ill travelers on a long journey.  The name was first applied to specialized care for dying patients by physician Dame Cicely Saunders, who began her work with the terminally ill in 1948 and eventually went on to create the first modern hospice—St. Christopher’s Hospice—in a residential suburb of London.

Saunders introduced the idea of specialized care for the dying to the United States during a 1963 visit with Yale University.  Her lecture, given to medical students, nurses, social workers, and chaplains about the concept of holistic hospice care, included photos of terminally ill cancer patients and their families, showing the dramatic differences before and after the symptom control care.  This lecture launched the following chain of events, which resulted in the development of hospice care as we know it today.

1965: Florence Wald, then Dean of the Yale School of Nursing, invites Saunders to become a visiting faculty member of the school for the spring term.

1967: Dame Cicely Saunders creates St. Christopher's Hospice in the United Kingdom.

1968: Wald takes a sabbatical from Yale to work at St. Christopher’s and learn all she can about hospice.

1969: A book based on more than 500 interviews with dying patients is published, entitled, On Death and Dying.  Written by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, it identifies the five stages through which many terminally ill patients progress.  The book becomes an internationally known best seller.  Within it, Kubler-Ross makes a plea for home care as opposed to treatment in an institutional setting and argues that patients should have a choice and the ability to participate in the decisions that affect their destiny.

1972:  Kubler-Ross testifies at the first national hearings on the subject of death with dignity, which are conducted by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.  In her testimony, Kubler-Ross states, “We live in a very particular death-denying society.  We isolate both the dying and the old, and it serves a purpose.  They are reminders of our own mortality.  We should not institutionalize people.  We can give families more help with home care and visiting nurses, giving the families and the patients the spiritual, emotional, and financial help in order to facilitate the final care at home.”

1974:  Florence Wald, along with two pediatricians and a chaplain, founded Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut.

1974: The first hospice legislation is introduced by Senators Frank Church and Frank E. Moss to provide federal funds for hospice programs.  The legislation is not enacted.

1978: A U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare task force reports that “the hospice movement as a concept for the care of the terminally ill and their families is a viable concept and one which holds out a means of providing more humane care for Americans dying of terminal illness while possibly reducing costs.  As such, it is the proper subject of federal support.”

1979: The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) initiates demonstration programs at 26 hospices across the country to assess the cost effectiveness of hospice care and to help determine what a hospice is and what it should provide.

1980: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation awards a grant to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO) to investigate the status of hospice and to develop standards for hospice accreditation.

1982: Congress includes a provision to create a Medicare hospice benefit in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, with a 1986 sunset provision.

1984: JCAHO initiates hospice accreditation.

1986: The Medicare Hospice Benefit is made permanent by Congress and hospices are given a 10% increase in reimbursement rates.  States are given the option of including hospice in their Medicaid programs.  Hospice care is now available to terminally ill nursing home residents.

1989: The Government Accounting Office releases a study stating that only about 35% of eligible hospices are Medicare-certified.  There are several reasons listed, one of which is the low payment rates HCFA had established for hospices.

1989: Congress gives hospices their first increase (20%) in reimbursement since 1986 and ties future increases to the annual increase in the hospital market basket through a provision contained in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989.

1991: The Commission on the Future Structure of Veterans Health Care (Mission Commission) releases a report recommending inclusion of hospice care in the veteran’s benefit package.

1992: Congress passes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1992, calling for a hospice feasibility study.

1993: Hospice is included as a nationally guaranteed benefit under President Clinton’s health care reform proposal. Hospice is now an accepted part of the health care continuum.

1994: HCFA sends a memorandum alerting the regions of problems regarding questionable certifications and recertifications of terminal illnesses.  This results in the first “focused medical review” for hospices and a wake-up call to the industry to improve its documentation and certification procedures or be denied payments.

1995: HCFA releases an expanded version of the Hospice Interpretive Guidelines, which provides much needed clarification of the Conditions of Participation (CoP). The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) Hospice Benefit is implemented June 1, 1995. It mirrors the Medicare Hospice Benefit in CoPs and reimbursement.

1995: The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announces the Operation Restore Trust (ORT), a special program to combat waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid in five targeted states—California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas—would be expanded to include hospice.

1996: The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overrules a Washington State Law against physician-assisted suicide. The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down New York’s law against physician-assisted suicide. Both rulings are appealed to the US Supreme Court.

1996: Bills are introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to make technical changes and improvements to the Medicare Hospice Benefit. The hospice industry provides full support for both bills.

1996: Major grant-makers pour money into funding for research, program initiatives, public forums, and conferences to transform the culture of dying and improve care at the end of life.

1997: ORT is extended and expanded to target all 50 states and additional types of health care providers.

1997: The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA 97) includes hospice provisions that, among other things, restructure the hospice benefit periods and remove physician services from the core services requirement.  BBA 97 also reinstates a hospice cost report and reduces hospice payment updates by market basket minus one percentage point.

1997: Congress passes legislation barring taxpayer dollars from financing physician-assisted suicide. The US Supreme Court rules that mentally competent terminally ill people do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, leaving the issue up to the states. Oregon voters affirm the right to physician-assisted suicide by passing for the second time its “Death with Dignity Act.”

1997: The growing end-of-life movement focuses national attention on quality of life at the end of life as well as the need for increased public awareness and physician education. The hospice philosophy and concept of care are central to models for palliative and end-of-life care.

1998: Hospices nationwide report rapidly declining average and median lengths of stay. The percentage of hospice non-cancer admissions decreases dramatically, reflecting the problems associated with determining a six-month prognosis for these patients.

1998: An ORT report on hospice states, “Overall, the Medicare hospice program seems to be working as intended.” The OIG reveals that hospice will not be included in the 1999 work plan.

1998: Care Beyond Cure: Physician Education in End-of-Life Care is released by the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences and the National Hospice Foundation.

1999: The U.S. Postal Service issues the Hospice Care commemorative stamp in February.

1999: The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) releases the Hospice Cost Report. Medicare-certified hospice programs must file cost data for each fiscal year on or after April 1, 1999.

1999: The Office of Inspector General (OIG) releases the Draft Compliance Program Guidelines for the Hospice Industry.

1999: The National Data Set Survey is initiated by NHPCO with the goal of creating standardized data collection nationwide.

2000: The National Hospice Foundation launches a four year public service campaign taking ads out to televisions and cable stations across the U.S.; one of these ads wins the prestigious ADDY Award.

2000: U.S. Senate holds two major hearings on end-of-life care that include discussions of barriers to access of hospice care under the Medicare hospice benefit.

2000: National hospice community calls for more consistent Medicare surveys

2000: The Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life is established.

2000: PBS series On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying in America is the focus of national education and engagement programs.

2000: Research from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary on Planning and Evaluation, shows statistically significant findings supporting the provision of hospice care for residents of skilled nursing facilities.

2001: The passage of the Benefits Improvement and Protection Act of 2000 brings a five percent increase in the Medicare hospice reimbursement rates.

2001: A Call for Change: Recommendations to Improve the Care of Children Living with Life-Threatening Conditions is released by the Children’s Project on Palliative/Hospice Services.

2001: The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) becomes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

2002: The Department of Veterans Affairs launches program to increase veterans’ access to hospice and palliative services while providing educational opportunities for clinicians in veterans’ healthcare facilities.

2002: Rallying Points, an initiative of RWJF’s Last Acts campaign, begins a three-year initiative to improve care and caring near the end of life.

2002: Federal court upholds Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law.

2003: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization celebrates its 25th anniversary.

2003: A Clinical Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS, is released by the U.S. Health Services Resource Administration at The White House Conference on Palliative Care and the HIV/AIDS Global Pandemic.

2003: The web-based Family Evaluation of Hospice Care Survey is launched.

2003: The hospice awareness ribbon is unveiled prior to November’s National Hospice Month.

2004: More than 1 million Americans with a life-limiting illness were served by the nation’s hospices in 2004, the first time the million-person mark has been crossed.

2004: The Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care is published in May by the National Consensus Project, a consortium of palliative care and hospice organizations.

2004: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the field of death and dying, dies at the age of 78.

2004: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation makes generous grant to National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization to advance public understanding and awareness of end-of-life care: NHPCO’s Caring Connections is created.

2005: Caring Connections, NHPCO’s consumer engagement initiative launches the comprehensive “It’s About How You LIVE” national campaign.

2005:  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation continues its support of NHPCO’s Caring Connections consumer engagement initiative with an additional $4.9 million grant.

2005: The Department of Veterans Affairs releases the report, VA Transforms End-of-Life Care for Veterans.

2005: National dialog on the importance of advance care planning increases as the case involving Teri Schiavo—who dies in March—escalates in the media and within public policy debates.

2005: The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the Franklin Mint make $3.35 million gift to promote better end-of-life care.

2005: The first national conference on access to hospice and palliative care is hosted by NHPCO in St. Louis.

2005: The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology release new guidelines about treating heart failure that includes recommendations that hospice care education be provided early in the course of an illness.

2006: Inaugural World Day is held on October 1 to focus global attention on hospice and palliative care; events are held in 70 countries.

2005: The number of hospice provider organizations throughout the country tops 4,000 for the first time.

2006: Quality Partners, a national, collaborative effort developed to build organizational excellence and improve hospice and palliative care delivery and outcomes is launched by NHPCO at the annual Management and Leadership Conference in New York City.

2006: The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) recognizes hospice and palliative medicine as a medical specialty.

2006:  U.S. hospice industry receives $13 Million Grant of Fujitsu Technology.

2006:  A Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa is released; the publication was funded by the U.S. Government through the HIV/AIDS Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, and NHPCO.

2006: Dame Cecily Saunders dies and a celebration of her life is held in Westminster Abbey on March 8; the U.S. hospice community issues a resolution honor Dame Cecily.

2007: Research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management reports that hospice patients live an average 29 days longer than similar patient that did not have hospice care.

2007: Findings of a major study out of Duke University published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management shows that hospice services save money for Medicare and bring quality care to patients and families.

2007: The National Quality Forum releases A National Framework for Palliative and Hospice Care Quality Measurement and Reporting.

2007: The Alliance for Care at the End of Life, a 501(c)4 organization is created to provide the hospice community with a more comprehensive, strategic voice on Capitol Hill.

2007: The Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance is formed to address global care needs at the end-of-life. 

2008: The inaugural National Healthcare Decisions Day is held on April 16.

2008: The regulations (Conditions of Participation) for Medicare certified hospice providers issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were significantly revised for the first time since the original publication.

2008: Florence Wald, pioneer in the field of hospice care in the U.S., died peacefully at her home in Connecticut on Saturday, November 8. She was 91.

2008: NHPCO calls for increased access to palliative care in critical care settings.

2008: Certificate of Added Qualifications, or CAQ, in hospice and palliative care becomes available.

2008: NHPCO and its affiliate organizations (National Hospice Foundation, FHSSA, and The Alliance for Care at the End of Life) move into the National Center for Care at the End of Life in Alexandria, Virginia.

2009: The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a private, non-profit organization responsible for the accreditation of post-MD medical training programs within the United States, adds hospice and palliative medicine to its list of accredited programs.

2009: The number of hospice volunteers continues to grow with a record 550,000 people serving as volunteers.

2009: The NHPCO Standards of Practice for Pediatric Palliative Care and Hospice along with the companion publication Facts and Figures on Pediatric Palliative and Hospice Care in America are released.

2009: Hospice leaders from the U.S. meet HRM Queen Elizabeth II at the Silver Jubilee Celebration for the U.K.-based Help the Hospices.

2009: Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests benefits of advance care planning discussions with physicians include lower costs and reduced utilization of aggressive care at the end of life.

2009: NHPCO's Caring Connections and Google Health partner to offer new way for people to access advance directives online.

2009: Quality Guidelines for Hospice and End-of-Life Care in Correctional Settings is published.

2010: NHPCO Standards of Practice for Pediatric Palliative Care and Hospice Receives American Academy of Pediatrics’ Affirmation of Value.

2010: We Honor Veterans, a pioneering campaign to help improve the care Veterans receive from hospice and palliative care providers, is launched by NHPCO in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

2010: A provision in  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will require state Medicaid programs to allow children with a life-limiting illness to receive both hospice care and curative treatment.

2010: Research publishedin New England Journal of Medicine finds that patients with non-small-cell lung cancer may live longer with hospice and palliative care.

2011: NHPCO publishes report, Private Conversations and Public Discourse: The Importance of Consumer Engagement in End-of-Life Care.

2011: The Concurrent Care for Children: Implementation Toolkit is released by NHPCO and the District of Columbia Pediatric Palliative Care Collaboration.

2011: Campaign for the National Center for Care at the End of Life Launched by National Hospice Foundation.

2011: Ethical Marketing Practices position statement and commentary is released by NHPCO.

2011: The bicameral Wyden-Roberts HELP Hospice Act is introduced in Congress. The Concurrent Care for Children: Implementation Toolkit is released by NHPCO and the DC Pediatric Palliative Care Collaboration.

2012: LIVE—Without Pain, a new public awareness campaign from NHPCO’s Caring Connections, dispels myths about pain and empowers consumers.  

2012:  An innovative, online advocacy resource, the Legislative Action Center, is created online by the Hospice Action Network. More than 1.5 million people are reached through the six-part online video series, Basics of Hospice.

2013:  Research from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine demonstrates cost savings of hospice and NHPCO and Hospice Action Network work to take this research to legislators and the media.

2014: Forty years after the creation of Connecticut Hospice, NHPCO and its affiliates celebrate 40 years of hospice care in the US.

2014: FHSSA expands its mission and is re-launched as Global Partners in Care.