The origin of hospice

“Hospice” is a term from medieval times which referred to a place where travelers could rest (from the same linguistic root as “hospitality”), a way station of sorts where a person might be cared for by their hosts. In the late 19th century it was a term used more commonly when talking about the places where nuns cared for the dying.

St. Christopher’s Hospice was the first hospice in modern times, created in 1965 by Dame Cicely Saunders, who lived in London but who began her work with terminally ill patients in the late 1940’s. Following the establishment of St. Christopher’s, the word “hospice” was coined and the concept of hospice care spread across England. By 1978 there were 26 hospices in the United Kingdom.

According to most reports, Dame Saunders introduced the United States to the idea of specialized care for the dying during a visit to Yale University in 1963. The lecture she gave to medical students, nursing students, social workers and chaplains about the holistic concept of hospice care included photos of terminally ill cancer patients and their families. Her photos showed the differences for a patient before and after what she called “symptom control care”. It was that particular lecture that launched a chain reaction of events that resulted in the hospice care programs as we know them today. One of those was Hospice of Chattanooga, which is recognized as one of the first 75 hospices in the United States.

Hospice care concepts began to be recognized in earnest by hospital professionals when President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Senator Bob Dole encouraged Congress to include the payment for hospice services as part of the Medicare benefit for Americans. That 1982 passage was only temporary, but in 1986 the Medicare Hospice Benefit was made permanent by Congress, and states were given the option of including hospice in their Medicaid programs, something all states adopted.

Today, Hospice of Chattanooga:

  • Serves patients with clinical teams from one of six locations: Rossville, GA, Dayton, TN, Cleveland, TN, Athens, TN, Jasper, TN and our main offices off Highway 58 in Chattanooga.
  • Operates this area’s only homelike inpatient hospice care center, located on Walker Road, just south of the Bonny Oaks exit from Interstate 75. This is designed for any Hospice of Chattanooga patients who are not able to stay in a hospital but whose medical issues are too difficult for care at home.
  • Welcomes the assistance of 175 volunteers who complement the work of our 272-member team of hospice professionals who are always focused on providing 5-star level of service to those who entrust us with their care.
  • Is part of the fabric of our community through affiliations with the Alzheimer’s Association, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, American Heart Association, the Community Foundation and the United Way of Chattanooga.
  • Maintains our place in the professional hospice community through membership in the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation, the Tennessee Hospice Organization, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and the Georgia Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. We are very proud of our recent successful survey by the Joint Commission, one of the most prestigious healthcare quality review organizations in the country.