All So-Called 'Comfort Care' is Not Created Equal

All 'Comfort Care' is Not Created Equal


People are often confused about the difference between hospice care and what is often termed 'comfort care.' Even my cousin, who had heard me talk about hospice for years wasn't aware, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, that there's a real difference.


My cousin had been given less than six months to live,  and wanted to try chemotherapy in the hope of buying herself more time. Unfortunately, the cancer had already spread to her ribs and spine when it was discovered. She then developed pneumonia, which prevented the start of chemotherapy. During a hospitalization, she received radiation therapy to clear the pneumonia that had been resistant to antibiotic treatment, but her decreased lung capacity left her too weak to go home. As a result, she was then admitted to a long term care facility directly from the hospital. 

There, she hoped to recover enough to undergo chemotherapy, but it became apparent that the cancer was aggressive, and she wasn't making and progress.


The nursing facility then offered her 'comfort care' and morphine for pain. But the morphine was only given when she asked for it; she complained that she often had to wait for the morphine while the pain increased. I suggested to her that she ask the following questions of her nursing facility:


1. Is the medical director or any of the other physicians certified in hospice and palliative care?

2. Does the comfort care offered here promote proper pain assessment?

3. Does comfort care include relief from suffering in spiritual, emotional and physiological areas?

4. Does comfort care include bereavement services, if so, what is their training and background for this service?

5. Are there volunteers available for companionship?

6. Do they have a vigil team who can make sure a person does not die alone?


Unfortunately for my cousin, the answer to these questions in this facility was no. I referred her to hospice care. They started immediately and her quality of life improved immediately.  With that help, my cousin was able to die peacefully, surrounded by her husband and children.



If you or someone you love is offers comfort care from a longterm care facility, find out exactly what that means. Ask the questions listed above.