Palliative care program serves growing number of patients

Jan 7,2010
When Good Sam launched its palliative care program for inpatients last year, the hospital’s director of palliative care, Sharon Lissman, MD, expected the program might benefit about six patients a month. But the physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers and others who work together to provide holistic, patient-centered palliative care were surprised when referrals soon exceeded 25 a month.

Now, a year later, physicians continue their palliative care consultations with patients and families who want to discuss treatment options and focus on managing symptoms, improving the quality of lives and dignity in death.

“I see the consultations as incredibly helpful for many patients and their families,” Lissman said. “We create a plan of care where the treatments align with one’s personal goals—usually focusing on quality of life. Patients and families regain hope and look forward to things, versus fearing the unknown.”

The success led to the establishment of a palliative care program at Samaritan Albany General Hospital last spring. The Albany program has embraced these services as a desirable approach to care for some seriously-ill patients. Efforts are currently underway to implement palliative care program elements at other Samaritan-affiliated hospitals.

“It helps patients to talk to someone who focuses on the goals of care and not just on tests and treatments,” said Takiko May, MD, director of palliative care at Samaritan Albany General Hospital. “I can spend more time focusing on who the patient is. The extra time we can give a patient or family when they are having to make a complex decision is so beneficial.”

When William “Bill” Knight of Brownsville was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Good Sam in September, that extra time and focus allowed him to spend his last days without pain and gave his family much comfort.

“I know they made Bill very comfortable,” said his wife of 59 years, Ellen Knight. “I was relieved because he had been in so much pain.”

Bill Knight’s health had been declining following a series of strokes and an overwhelming infection was causing his body’s organs and systems to fail. A palliative care focus spared him extended suffering and pain. The palliative care team also arranged for Ellen Knight and two of the couple’s adult children to stay in the Mario Pastega House, a hospitality house on the campus of Good Sam.

“I just appreciated so much their concern and their care,” Ellen Knight said.

Bill Knight, who’d never really retired from the logging business he established in 1974, was known as a straight shooter—demanding but honest.

When asked what he would think about the palliative care he received at Good Sam, Ellen Knight said, simply: “He would say ‘Thank you.’”

Palliative care is comprehensive patient care which includes management of physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs. Palliative care is designed to ensure comfort,dignity and control in patients’ lives as they face complex or life-threatening illness.