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Palliative Care: When an Extra Layer of Support Can Make All the Difference for a Patient

Palliative Care: When an Extra Layer of Support Can Make All the Difference for a Patient

Do you know someone who is facing a serious illness? Palliative care may help.

Each November, hospitals and health care professionals recognize National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and use the time of year to raise awareness about the services that are offered.

Clinical Manager of the Palliative Care Program and Nurse Practitioner Bernardita Roe, MSN, APRN, ANP-BC, was instrumental in developing Washington Hospital’s multidisciplinary Palliative Care Program. She notes that when a patient is being treated for a serious illness, palliative care provides an extra layer of support.

Palliative care frequently includes helping patients with:

• Navigating the health care system

• Identifying a patient’s goals of care

• Addressing complex symptoms and difficult treatment choices

• Ensuring that a patient’s preferences for medical care match their goals and values

• Offering psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual support to patients and their families

• Anticipating and planning next steps as a patient’s disease progresses

Palliative care and hospice care are sometimes confused, but there are differences between the types of patients they serve and their goals. “Because there is misunderstanding about what exactly is palliative care and how it differs from hospice, there are people who may be missing out on this valuable health service that we offer,” says Roe.

Palliative care is focused on helping patients and their families cope with their illness and treatment. The goal of palliative care is to help patients live as well as possible for as long as possible. Hospice care, by contrast, is focused on giving patients comfort at the end of their life.

Palliative care is provided alongside curative medical treatment. It is not limited to a specific time frame or diagnosis. It is offered to patients who can benefit from a team of professionals addressing the numerous and often overwhelming challenges that are a result of their ailment. Roe explains, “Palliative care is appropriate for patients of any age, at any stage in their disease.”

Palliative care can help reduce the stress on a patient and the patient’s family by providing a holistic approach to managing their health and other physical and spiritual concerns. “At Washington Hospital, we have in-depth conversations with patients and their families to get a better understanding of what is important to them, and we assess what additional support they need,” says Roe. “We support patients’ choices, and try to reduce their anxiety. We provide compassion at a time when so much is out of their control.”

Palliative care most frequently begins while a patient is in the hospital receiving treatment for illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or stroke. The attending physician refers the patient to the Palliative Care Team. Washington Hospital’s Palliative Care Team includes doctors, nurse practitioners, a registered nurse, a social worker, and a spiritual care coordinator. The doctors, nurse practitioners, and clinicians assist patients with support in understanding their disease and treatment, decision-making, and managing their symptoms. The spiritual care coordinator and social worker attend to patients’ emotional and spiritual needs. The team’s interventions may include transition of care or advance care planning discussions, physical therapy, occupational therapy, wound care, dietary guidance, and psychosocial and spiritual counseling. “

At Washington Hospital, palliative care can mean everything from a single meeting with one person on the Palliative Care Team, to multiple meetings and conversations with the patient and their family members over weeks or months. It depends on what the patient wants and needs.”

Palliative care has been shown to lead to better management of symptoms, pain, and depression in patients, and less stress and anxiety for patients’ families. Patients benefit the most from palliative care when it is begun early in the course of their illness.

For many patients, their serious illness can result in non-medical concerns that can be as challenging as their medical ones. “Life happens to all of us. And just because a person or their family member is sick, doesn't mean the rest of their life is not happening. That's where our support comes in.”

Roe adds, “Some patients, and even some doctors, avoid taking advantage of palliative care services because they mistakenly associate it with care given at the end of life. But adding palliative care to your treatment regimen may improve or even extend life.” The WHHS palliative care service is expanding to the community setting. Talk with your primary care doctor to see if palliative care is right for you or a loved one.

To learn more about Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s palliative care services, visit or call 510.818.5433.