MONDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- The availability of hospice care for dying patients in the United States is strongly associated with a local area's average household income, a new study says.

Hospice facilities provide end-of-life care that can improve pain control, maintain patients' independence and even extend life, according to lead author Dr. Maria Silveira, of the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System and an assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

She and her colleagues found that for every $1,000 increase in median household income in a county, there was a 3 percent increase in the supply of hospice services.

The investigators also found that there were more hospice services in counties with large populations, more black residents and more people older than 65, but fewer hospice services in counties that were larger in geographic size and in those with more Hispanic residents.

The study is published online in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

The findings indicate the need for changes to the traditional model for structuring and financing hospice care, the researchers said. They noted that charity is a main source of funding for community hospices, which is one possible explanation for the disparities found in the study.

"Wealthy communities can afford large amounts of charitable giving and thus have the resources to build local hospices; whereas poorer communities may not be able to donate in the amounts necessary to do the same," Silveira said in a university news release.

"Given the tremendous, proven benefit of hospice programs, supply of these services needs ongoing study," she added.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about hospice care.