No one looks forward to being hospitalized. But for patients with chronic diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, kidney failure, congestive heart failure or Parkinson’s, for example, hospitalization often occurs.
While traditional health care services can provide assistance, there are instances when additional support in the way of palliative care can improve one’s quality of life.
“Palliative care doesn’t mean you are entering the last chapter of your life; it simply means that you need some support to give you the best quality of life,” says Judith Johnson, director of case management at Sturdy Memorial Hospital.
“Palliative care providers focus on symptoms of disease, pain management and side effects of medications,” Johnson said. “Although we cannot make any guarantees on how a disease process affects the quantity of life, collaboration of care can have a positive focus on the quality of life.”
There are few realizations that are harder to bear than learning one’s life expectancy is much shorter than anticipated. The most important decision, at that point, focuses on how to make that remaining life expectancy the highest quality it can possibly be. This is where collaboration between medical providers and palliative care providers can work best together.
Through an innovative relationship between Sturdy Memorial Hospital and HopeHealth, New England’s largest nonprofit hospice and palliative care entity, palliative care services are available for Sturdy’s patients who are facing a chronic or terminal illness.
There are large, high-quality studies that show that involving palliative care provides many benefits including improvement in physical, psychological, social and financial aspects of life.
Moreover, palliative care services may even extend a patient’s life.
“HopeHealth welcomes the opportunity to provide our full complement of palliative care services to patients at Sturdy, a well-known, well-respected and forward-thinking hospital,” says Dr. Jennifer Ritzau, medical director for palliative services at HopeHealth. “Given a national shortage of hospice and palliative care providers, it is challenging for individual hospitals to establish their own palliative care programs.”
For a seriously ill patient who is found to be appropriate for palliative care, a consult with HopeHealth’s nurse practitioner, a highly skilled palliative care provider, is completed. A consult does not mean that a family is accepting palliative care services. It simply serves as a way for our team to approach the sensitive topic in a way that provides education about the service in a calm and supportive environment.
When palliative care services are part of a patient’s care plan, HopeHealth’s nurse practitioner gathers all necessary medical information and discusses the patient’s symptoms and pain. Through additional discussions with the patient and family, she identifies what they know about the disease prognosis and provides education and guidance. While drugs and medical interventions are used to address a patient’s physical pain, palliative care provides additional strategies, including counseling, family support and other therapies to help with emotional distress.
With palliative care, the entire multidisciplinary health care team understands and respects the values and wishes of the patient and his or her family members. Patients and their families are involved in their care; they have a voice in their treatment and are offered choices along their disease trajectory. In palliative care, we may encounter a woman suffering from congestive heart failure whose primary goal is to be able to attend her granddaughter’s wedding. We may have a gentleman with end-stage liver cancer who wants to spend as much time as he can sitting on the beach without pain. It is our goal to identify ways that we can help our patients achieve what is important to them. High-quality palliative care offers a reprieve from pain, symptoms and stressors associated with serious illness. It allows our patients to focus on things that matter to them. It also provides family caregivers with support that they often times don’t realize they need.
There is often a reluctance to talk about dying. Many of us fear it. Facing our own mortality is difficult, so we avoid it. But for those with terminal and chronic illnesses, being offered the opportunity to face mortality and discuss it openly—fears and grief alike—provides relief. Palliative care focuses on what matters most to terminal patients. It treats the whole person—the body, mind and heart. There are misconceptions that palliative care is about death and dying when, in actuality, it’s about living your best life despite your diagnosis.
Sturdy Memorial Hospital and HopeHealth share a strong passion to ensure patients’ needs are met and truly focus on achieving the best outcome for patients. The collaboration between Sturdy and HopeHealth allows us to meet the needs of patients and their families earlier in the disease process, a time when it can have the most meaningful impact. Bringing palliative care service to our patients’ bedsides fulfills our long-standing commitment to support the residents of our communities across the care continuum.
For more information about inpatient palliative care at Sturdy Memorial Hospital, please visit www.sturdymemorial.org/palliative.