Why Does Palliative Care Matter?

May 22, 2018

A Life-Changing Program with a Vision for Growth

When a 68-year-old patient arrived for his appointment at St. Jude Medical Center, he had been in and out of other hospitals over several months, and was looking for more effective long-term care for his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory ailments.

Approached by a nurse practitioner from St. Jude’s palliative care team, he and his family were initially concerned: they hoped he would be able to bounce back and walk without a walker, and he definitely wasn’t ready for hospice care.

This was a chance to educate this patient and family on what palliative care can actually do for someone with a serious chronic illness who is not near the end of life.

“Palliative care focuses on quality of life, whether a patient is expected to live for years or months,” says Dorothy Lippman Salovesh, NP, senior palliative care nurse practitioner. “It offers an extra layer of compassionate support, whether for

symptom or pain relief, navigation of medical information, management of care at home, or simply emotional comfort.”

The team also helps patients create an advanced directive to document short- and long-term health care wishes. This ensures family members have a clear understanding of their responsibility and receive support in decision-making when the patient no longer can.

The benefits of the highly specialized service are immense. Palliative care has been shown to help people feel more empowered to cope with their illnesses, reduce the need for costly procedures and hospitalizations, and even prolong survival.

Better informed about what palliative care could offer, the 68-year-old respiratory patient worked with outpatient palliative care nurse practitioner– Lisa Hanna, DNP, ANP-C, OCN, ACHPN, St. Jude Heritage Medical Group – and his own physician to create a plan to address his shortness of breath, mobility issues, difficulty sleeping and other concerns.

The plan included steps to take when symptoms worsened, in hopes of keeping him at home and out of the hospital—a high priority for this patient and family.

Built on Faith and Foresight

St. Jude Palliative Care Services have been available since 2003, when Dorothy asked the medical center’s leadership to launch the program as a nurse consultant service.

“At a time when palliative care services were not common in medical centers, our leadership had the courage to give it a chance, to see how it might work at St. Jude,” says Dorothy. “They quickly saw it

was improving patients’ quality of life. It was the right thing to do and it has made a meaningful difference.”

The program has developed from a single nurse consultant to a team of five full- and part-time nurse practitioners, two RNs, a social worker, a physician advisor and hospital chaplains as needed. It is also in the process of hiring an outpatient medical director and several St. Jude physicians have become trained in palliative medicine.

Why Expansion is Necessary

The demand for palliative care services is growing. Last year, the inpatient team served 1,000 patients. Currently, it serves 1,600 patients and that number is expected to climb.

“With more of our population living with a life-limiting or chronic illness such as cancer, congestive heart failure, or COPD, it is imperative to sustain a comprehensive palliative care program that can support the whole person needs of every patient and family,” says Eugene Kim, MD, chief medical officer, St. Jude Medical Center.

Expanding outpatient palliative care services is also a priority. Currently, there is only one outpatient nurse practitioner and one social worker seeing 900 patients each year, 500 of which were new in 2017.

“By enabling more people to manage their pain and other symptoms through consultation, physical therapy, nurse visits, IV fluids, music therapy, or spiritual counseling in the comfort of their own homes, we help them make the most of the time they have remaining,” says Lisa.

Community Support is Critical

Palliative care is a life-changing service for St. Jude patients. However, only a limited scope of services is reimbursable by Medicare and Medicaid, making donor support crucial for expansion and sustainability.

In fact, St. Jude hopes to inspire philanthropic gifts for an endowment that will ensure the long-term support and security of the palliative care program.

Donor support would allow St. Jude to:

• Provide dedicated, personalized navigation to more patients and families

• Expand the outpatient palliative care program

• Equip more nurses and caregivers with palliative care training and certification

• Expand community support groups and education on coping with serious illness

“Our team is incredibly caring and enthusiastic. With philanthropic partners and support from the community, we can build a more robust palliative care program that can provide supportive care to each and every patient and family in need of these services,” says Dorothy.

To learn more about how you can help, contact the St. Jude Memorial Foundation at (714) 992-3033.

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