Hospice was a term used centuries ago to describe places of refuge (way stations for travelers) along the rough, rugged paths of the Swiss Alps. In these shelters, weary and wounded travelers could be replenished, refreshed and cared for during their journey. "Hospice" today refers to an organized program or a system of care rather than a particular place, where weary travelers get care during life's last journey
The very first hospice, St. Christopher's in London, England, was started in 1967 by Dame Cicely Saunders. She was the first to recognize that terminally ill patients weren't getting the specialized care they needed. All too often, the medical community emphasized cure at all costs and viewed death as defeat and failure. Because of this attitude of denial of death as part of the cycle of life, terminal patients were frequently isolated. Pain tended to be treated with limited amounts of medication only when the pain became severe. Physicians feared psychological dependence and physical addiction to the drugs used to control the pain. St. Christopher's hospice began the daunting task of changing society's attitudes toward the dying process, and in 1974 the first hospice was established in the United States in New Haven, Connecticut. In the decades since the first hospice opened its doors, thousands of others have sprung up in every corner of the nation.
For more than a quarter of a century hospice providers in this country have given palliative care and emotional comfort to terminally ill patients and their families in the familiar surrounding of home and in "home like" settings. Hospice does not seek to postpone or hasten death. Instead, hospice seeks to improve the quality of life, committed to the principle that people deserve to live the last moments of their life in comfort, dignity and peace.