Palliative care brings comfort to patients with serious illnesses

Post Date: May 16, 2019

Article written by The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

The need for palliative (or comfort) care can be overwhelming for patients and their families. Dealing with day-to-day issues such as doctor appointments, medications and treatments, and pain management can be mentally and physically taxing. Simply identifying how to get support for palliative care can be challenging. Palliative care is designed for patients with life-threatening or serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, end-stage kidney disease, heart disease or neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Palliative care helps patients manage their pain and other symptoms, and also includes psychological, social and spiritual support for patients and their families. The Hospice of Baton Rouge recognized a gap among the palliative care programs in Baton Rouge, and began offering their own in-home palliative care program in January 2018.“The program started organically,” says Catherine Schendel, CEO of The Hospice of Baton Rouge. “We had a lot of experience with symptom management in a home setting and with that came referrals for people who wanted to receive treatment at home, but who were outside the scope of hospice. That option wasn’t on the table for a lot of people, so we formed Palliative Care of Baton Rouge to meet the needs of our community.” Unlike end-of-life hospice care, at-home palliative care is generally not covered by insurance. As the only nonprofit comfort care provider in the city, The Hospice of Baton Rouge is able to support patients through its foundation, Schendel says. Patients in the palliative program can access The Hospice of Baton Rouge’s wider services, including those provided by physicians, chaplains and volunteers who provide companionship and respite. Most patients come to the program through referrals from doctors, hospitals or from established relationships with home health providers, which can pair their nursing or therapy services with the palliative care program for increased support. A doctor’s order is required to ensure a physician is involved in the patient’s care and can collaborate with the team at Palliative Care of Baton Rouge, adds Mary Maloney, registered nurse and palliative care coordinator. Non-medical issues are an important part of treatment, says Karen Marioneaux, a social worker for Palliative Care of Baton Rouge. “Being able to spend quality time with patients in their home and really listen to them is important,” she says. “Some of those hard conversations can be missed in the fast-paced setting of a doctor’s office or hospital-based palliative care. Our program is about minimizing the patient’s stress—little things can take a load off and help them stay afloat—like sitting and listening to them, or rocking their baby while they are at a doctor’s appointment.” Palliative Care of Baton Rouge also helps patients when it’s time to leave the program, either because they are discharged or because they are transitioned to a different type of care. “When a patient’s condition changes, we can have a conversation with them and with their physicians and say they need a higher level of care,” Maloney says. “With our network, we are able to transition them to hospice care, for example, often within hours. That is a huge help to be able to step in quickly when that need arises.” Providing support when someone is struggling or needs extra care is what makes the program successful for patients and the palliative care team,” says Schendel. “These patients and their families have so many things going on. It really can be overwhelming. Even if it is one little thing, knowing we are making a difference keeps us going.”