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The Gerontologist 48:477-484 (2008)
© 2008 The Gerontological Society of America

Referral and Timing of Referral to Hospice Care in Nursing Homes: The Significant Role of Staff Members

Lisa C. Welch, PhD1, Susan C. Miller, PhD2, Edward W. Martin, MD3 and Aman Nanda, MD4

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Lisa C. Welch, PhD, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Box 1455, Edwardsville, IL 62026. E-mail: Lwelch{at}

Purpose: Given concerns about end-of-life care for many nursing home (NH) residents, this study sought to understand factors influencing hospice referral or nonreferral as well as timing of referral. Design and Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with personnel from seven participating NHs and two hospices. We interviewed NH directors of nursing regarding facility referral practices and conducted interviews with 34 NH nurses, 30 NH aides, and 17 hospice nurses knowledgeable about the factors that led to the hospice status of 32 NH decedents. Selected decedents varied by diagnosis and hospice status (received hospice for >7 days, ≤7 days, or not at all). We audiotaped, transcribed, and coded interviews for themes.  Results: NH staff members' recognition of terminal decline, beliefs about hospice, and initiative significantly influenced hospice referral and timing of referral. Staff members' recognition of familiar signs of decline facilitated hospice referral; in contrast, a perception that death was unexpected impeded referral, and a perception of uncertain prognosis delayed referral. Staff members' beliefs that hospice does not add value to NH care or is for crises only impeded referral, and a belief that hospice is only for the "very end" delayed referral. Residents received hospice for longer periods when staff believed that hospice complemented NH care and when staff took the initiative in raising the option of hospice. Implications: Enhanced training about recognizing terminal decline, hospice services in NHs, and the role of staff initiative would support NH staff in raising the option of hospice when appropriate.

Key Words: End-of-life care • Dying • Recognizing terminal decline • Staff beliefs • Continuing education

All GSA journals Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Copyright © 2008 by The Gerontological Society of America.