In response to the economic challenges we face, South Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services has eliminated the Medicaid hospice benefit effective the end of February. This decision will directly affect poor, terminally ill patients in the state. Without the hospice benefit, the state's poor will be forced to return to the "old methods" of dying -- at home without professional care; in a nursing home without the additional support of hospice-trained staff; or in a hospital's intensive care unit.
Hospice is a cost-effective, personal delivery of caring health care and with the actions of DHEC, the most vulnerable among us are being denied the basic dignity and choices all people should have. When given a choice, most people prefer to live their last days at home, with the comfort of family and friends surrounding them. Without hospice, most will seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms and will further strain an already stretched delivery system of health care.
The issue goes beyond simple human compassion to one of basic fiscal responsibility. Based on the findings in a study by The Milliman Group, a New York health care consulting and actuarial firm, cutting hospice increases cost per terminally ill patient -- because the needs of the terminally ill aren't eliminated, but are simply shifted to the more expensive ways of delivering the same services.
Every dying person and their family should be able to access professional help from physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, trained aides and volunteers, as well as the needed prescriptions, medical equipment and supplies that hospice provides. Hospice care is an extraordinarily efficient way to provide this very specialized and expensive care.
Hospice isn't part of a budgetary problem; we are one of the solutions. I urge all South Carolina residents to contact their elected officials. We cannot allow our most vulnerable citizens to be left by the wayside at a time when they need care the most.
(The writer is administrator of Heartland Hospice of Augusta, and operations manager of Heartland Hospice of the Midlands in Aiken, S.C.)