Care without walls
More than 12 million adults in the US are living with serious illness. Countless more are currently undiagnosed but in need of care.
One of the greatest challenges facing those living with chronic illness is managing their symptoms and side effects in a way that improves their quality of life.
That is where palliative care can help.
The US National Library of Medicine defines palliative care as care that prevents or treats symptoms and side effects of disease and treatment. Palliative care also treats emotional, social, practical, and spiritual problems that illnesses can bring up. The belief is that when the person feels better in these areas, they have an improved quality of life.
As our population ages and our understanding of illness grows, so too does the number of hospitals that provide palliative care.
The most recent statistics from the Center to Advance Palliative Care (published in September) show that 72 percent of hospitals in the US with 50 or more beds have a palliative care program. That’s up from 67 percent in 2015 and just seven percent in 2001.
Locally, Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital provides a robust palliative care program that operates in collaboration with Foothills Palliative Care Consultants and Hospice of the Foothills.
“Whether provided here at the hospital as an inpatient or at home as an outpatient, palliative care focuses on improving quality of life,” says Lauren Swinney, RN, Manager of SNMH’s Palliative Care Program. “The goal is to reduce pain, improve symptoms, and address any other issues that are contributing to the patient’s condition and quality of life.”
Many people wrongly assume palliative care is the same as hospice care. “Palliative care improves the patient’s quality of life at any stage of illness,” Swinney explains. “Patients are typically still seeking treatment for their condition or disease, whereas hospice care provides support and comfort care.”
In the hospital setting, Swinney says her team is called to provide palliative care to a patient for a variety of reasons.
“We could be asked by the physician to help anyone in the hospital at any time,” Swinney says. “We see patients regularly who are living with respiratory diseases, heart problems, cancer, liver and kidney failure… If their disease or condition is affecting their life, we can help.”
The work of SNMH’s palliative care team doesn’t end when the patient leaves the hospital. Thanks to a grant from the California Health Care Foundation, the hospital team works in conjunction with Foothills Palliative Care Consultants.
“We are all a team – there are no walls,” Swinney says. “And that really benefits the community. There is another layer to the care we can provide them.”
That collaborative relationship provides an important link to resources in the community. If a patient needs help with housing or transportation or nutrition – all of those things can affect how well they manage their condition. Through palliative care, they are connected with resources that can address those needs.
And now, with the addition of an on-site palliative care clinic at Hospice of the Foothills, patients will find care even more streamlined and efficient.
“The on-site clinic enables us to prescribe medications needed for pain and other symptom management,” explains Dr. Rene Kronland, Medical Director for both SNMH Palliative Care Services and Hospice of the Foothills. “In the past, we could only provide advice to the patient’s physician and then that provider would need to arrange for those advised changes in the treatment plan. This produced a delay and was a burden to the patient and the provider both. Palliative care patients have complicated symptom management needs in their chronic disease conditions, and the on-site clinic will help us meet their needs in a more complete fashion.”
By connecting with the resources they need after they leave the hospital, patients are less likely be readmitted to the hospital. They are also more likely to return to work and to their normal activities.
Whether patients receive palliative care at the hospital or as an outpatient at home, the impact it can have on their life is profound.
“Palliative is a true team effort aimed at rebuilding their quality of life,” Swinney says. “It is truly a gift when I encounter someone who we treated and who is thriving and living life. That is the ultimate goal of palliative care.”
November is Palliative Care Month. To learn more about palliative care and how to access it, contact Foothills Palliative Care Consultants at 530-272-5011.
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