Palliative care team focuses on patient comfort |

Palliative care team focuses on patient comfort

Medicine is mostly focused on identifying and treating illness.

But Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) also provides a team of specialists that concentrates on treating symptoms, and making a patient as comfortable as possible as he or she deals with serious or chronic medical conditions.

The service — known as palliative care — not only helps patients, but brings a level of comfort to their families, as well, according to Lauren Swinney, RN, OCN. Swinney is director of medical surgical, ambulatory care, palliative care and spiritual care at the hospital.

“The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person and their loved ones during their illness,” Swinney explained.

She noted that it’s care that “has no time frame.”

“It may be a short-term need, such as for patients undergoing cancer treatment, or it may be long-term for patients who will cope with their diseases for the rest of their lives — perhaps years,” she said. “It may also be used in conjunction with hospice care.”

That link with hospice care has just been reinforced with the addition of Dr. Rene Kronland to the Palliative Care Team as its medical director. Dr. Kronland also serves as medical director of Hospice of the Foothills, and the palliative care consult services provided at the hospital are a joint effort between the two organizations.

Swinney said the team, which has existed for over a decade, works with the patient’s nurses and doctors to address the patient’s suffering and help achieve what she termed as “compassionate comfort.”

“Palliative care benefits both patients and their families,” she said. “Yes, we focus on symptom management, but also on providing communication and support for the family.”

Team members help patients and families make medical decisions and choose treatments that are in line with their goals of care, she added.

“By providing palliative care, we are considering the patient’s quality of life,” Swinney explained, “making sure that the patient isn’t suffering difficult symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, constipation, shortness of breath, insomnia, or even mental health challenges like depression. We try to help the patient gain the strength needed to carry on with daily life.”

This kind of care can improve a patient’s ability to tolerate medical treatments, she said, and gives the patient a better sense of control over ongoing care and treatment options.

Patients may use palliative care support while continuing to seek curative care for their conditions, she said.

Patients that benefit from palliative care include those dealing with cancer, cardiac disease such as congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and many other conditions.

“When a person is very frail, of advanced age or seriously ill, the goal of the patient may not be to cure, rehabilitate or restore, but may instead be to live well and be comfortable without the burden of curative treatment,” Swinney noted. ”If a patient is considered to be near the end of life, then a Hospice referral can be arranged.”

Patients diagnosed with a serious illness, who feel they might benefit from this program, are encouraged to discuss palliative care with their physicians, Swinney said. The team’s work begins with an in-hospital evaluation of the patient, which is covered by Medicare and other insurances.

The SNMH Palliative Care Team includes: Dr. Kronland; Swinney; Rebecca Parsons, LCSW; Erin Thomas-Rose, LCSW; Donna Brown, RN, Hospice of the Foothills; Carol Richey, interim chaplain at the hospital; and representatives of other disciplines as needed.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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