Palliative Care Services

Your Life Now… At Its Best

doctor and nurse speaking with patient about palliative careFor patients who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, maintaining a fulfilling life can be a challenge. Symptoms such as pain, nausea, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath can turn every day into a struggle. Thanks to Milford Regional’s new Palliative Care Services, hospitalized patients now have access to another resource which can help manage the debilitating symptoms of serious illnesses and improve quality of life for patients and their families.

Palliative medicine is the medical specialty which offers advanced pain and symptom management to patients with chronic, progressive illness, regardless of prognosis, says Dr. Tina Robakiewicz, medical director of Palliative Care Services and the Hospitalist program. Common illnesses seen by palliative care specialists include cancer, COPD, congestive heart failure, kidney failure and dementia. There has been a rapid growth of this specialty across the country. According to Dr. Robakiewicz, 658 U.S. hospitals (or 24 percent) had palliative care programs in 2000; the number increased to 1635 (or 66 percent) by 2010.

Dr. Robakiewicz notes that many people confuse palliative care with hospice. She stresses that palliative care can be accessed at any point during a serious illness, not just at the end of life. “Patients can receive palliative care for their symptoms and, at the same time, they can continue active treatment for their chronic illness, such as chemotherapy for cancer.”

Palliative care is a team approach to care. The core team includes Dr. Robakiewicz, who is board-certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and Kimberly Morse, who is a certified physician assistant with years of experience in this field. In addition, the patient’s primary nurse, social workers, case managers, pharmacists, chaplains, therapists, and dieticians may be involved, depending on the situation.

Working together with your doctors, the team also helps the patient and family to understand treatment options and to clarify the patient’s goals of care. Though the patient’s care will revert back to the primary care physician on discharge from the hospital, Dr. Robakiewicz points out that palliative care fills an important niche. “These patients often have multiple complex medical issues. It takes an incredible amount of time to meet with the patient and family members to discuss these complicated issues and determine which options are most consistent with the patient’s goals and values,” she says. “Our role is to take that time and then communicate with the patient’s physicians.”

Further assistance is offered to patients and families through Advance Care Planning. This proactive approach involves developing a care plan before a health crisis occurs and the patient can no longer make decisions. Advance Care Planning relieves loved ones from the stress of decision-making during such difficult times and ensures that the patient’s wishes are honored.

While the pivotal focus of palliative care is the patient, Kimberly notes that it is very much an all-inclusive service for family members or loved ones as well. “Our role is to help support patients and their family through difficult situations and discuss various options for assistance that are available, inside and outside the hospital,” she says. “We keep in close contact with the patient’s primary care physician to make sure the transition is seamless. Palliative Care is the bridge of connection.”

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