“Doctor Sleep” Sends a Wake-up Call

 In Improving Satisfaction Scores, Preparing for the Future

It’s quite rare that mainstream entertainment includes or even mentions hospice. When it does happen, the message is often wrong or incomplete, further cementing misperceptions about hospice care that may solidify barriers in the public’s mind.

“Doctor Sleep” – a movie based on Stephen King’s sequel to “The Shining” – recently opened at theaters nationwide. The movie automatically is receiving a lot of attention due to the wild popularity of both King’s novels and Stanley Kubrick’s film version of “The Shining” (which King infamously hates, by the way).

In “Doctor Sleep,” Danny Torrance is all grown up and running from his troubled past. He works at a hospice center in a small New Hampshire town, where his psychic “shining” abilities let him know when a patient is on the brink of death. Dan (as he’s now called) uses this insight to comfort the dying as they pass from this world, earning him the nickname of “Doctor Sleep.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s not … and hospice comes across as compassionate and dignified for those who are in the act of dying. Yet the depiction perpetuates at least three misperceptions about hospice care that at the very least muffle the best of what hospice has to offer.

With “Doctor Sleep” squarely in the spotlight, why not use its visibility to offer counterpoints to its hospice depiction and educate your community with the whole truth? Feel free to use or modify the points below to write an op-ed piece to your local newspaper (or its website) or look for opportunities to appear on local radio and TV shows with these enlightening messages.

  1. Hospice isn’t a place, it’s a philosophy of care. Yes, many providers operate an inpatient hospice house where patients too ill to be managed at home or those who have no home may spend their final chapter. Yet more than 95% of hospice patients receive care where they call home, surrounded by the people and settings they love. Home is where most people want to be when they are seriously ill or dying, and hospice care makes that wish possible. Fewer than 2% pass away at a hospice inpatient center.
  2. Hospice isn’t just for the final days, it’s for months of comfort. Dan’s acts of grace in “Doctor Sleep” focus on hospice patients at the threshold of death. Sadly, far too many patients and families don’t seek the support of expert hospice care as early as they should. More than 50% of hospice patients receive hospice care for 30 days or less. About 40% are on hospice care for 14 days or less. With the full physical, emotional and spiritual support of hospice care available for at least six months before death, it’s a shame so many people wait to experience the benefits.
  3. Hospice isn’t only for dying peacefully, it’s for living fully. With the extensive support of hospice care available for months wherever the patient calls home, people can have the circumstances they need to live as fully as possible, for as long as possible. Hospice care is all about helping patients meet their goals, spend treasured time with family and friends, and finish strong. Indeed, hospice supports people who are actively dying in ways that bring comfort, peace and dignity. Yet it’s all the living that’s possible with hospice care before one’s final breath that makes hospice so valuable.

Please do what you can to help make hospice not scary for people in your community. Use the spotlight of the horror movie “Doctor Sleep” to set the record straight about hospice care. Who knows? When people discover the full truth about hospice, they just may take a shining to it.

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