Putting terminally ill patients at ease during their final months of life

In Robert and Beverly Stack’s red-brick rambler in Orange, Va., the dining room has been transformed into a bedroom. It’s furnished with a hospital bed and a dresser lined with medications and other supplies—all provided by Hospice of the Rapidan, a nonprofit agency based in Culpeper, Va., that cares for about 300 patients a year.

Robert, an 81-year-old World War II veteran and retired educator, has Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosed in 2000 and recently bedridden after breaking a hip, he’s in declining health, and his daily care has become too demanding for his wife of 54 years to handle. “I can’t do it all myself anymore,” says 71-year-old Beverly. So with a referral from Robert’s physician, she and her family made arrangements for hospice care at home.

Robert Stack is one of more than 1 million patients who began hospice care this year in the United States. Covered under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans, hospice care is a swiftly growing healthcare field. About 1.4 million people received new or continuing hospice care last year, more than twice as many as did a decade ago, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the Alexandria, Va.-based industry group.