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The History of Hospice

The History of Hospice

The idea of hospice goes back at least as far as the 4th Century AD, when monasteries and other religious orders opened their doors to pilgrims, the elderly, and the seriously ill. It was based on the principle of simple charity, and was as much about feeding the hungry and giving weary travellers a place to rest for a night as it was about caring for the dying or healing the sick.

By the 19th Century the meaning had changed. French, English, and Irish hospices were run with a specific focus on those who were dying. In most cases the hospices were still run by religious organizations, and were open to poor people who could not afford expensive medical care and who may not have had families to care for them.

The modern hospice movement

The first truly modern hospices, which aimed at more than simply providing a roof over a patient’s head, food, and basic care, were opened in the 1950s and 60s. At St Christopher’s in London, Dame Cicely Saunders took a broader view. Not only was comfort and pain management central to the daily life of a patient, but also emotional and spiritual support.

Home care also became a focus. The idea that patients should spend their last days in a hospital was challenged and replaced with a broader range of options that included home care.

Hospice in the USA

Saunders was also instrumental in bringing the hospice movement to the United States. She visited in 1963, giving a landmark lecture at Yale University presented to social workers and chaplains as well as medical students and nurses. Two years later she was invited back to Yale as a visiting faculty member.

The first modern hospice in the US was founded in 1974, and the Medicare Hospice Benefit was introduced in the 1980s. Center for Hospice Care opened in 1985 as Hospice Southeastern Connecticut. We started as a group of closely allied care providers, and have been going strong ever since.


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