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Healthcare Quarterly
Harrison launches palliative-care program

Harrison Medical Center introduced a palliative care service a year ago in October, and demand for the program has been steadily growing.

The service caters to hospitalized patients who have major or terminal illness, and offers specialized care focused on the relief of pain, symptoms and stress associated with the illness. The goal is to help people be comfortable and provide support not only for patients but also their families.

“We listen to patients and their families and find out what’s concerning them, whether that’s physical or emotional symptoms,” said Beverly JeffSteele, DO, the medical director for the program. “(The service) is helpful to anybody who has a life-limiting illness.”

The program started out small — both JeffSteele and Nancy Lorber, RN, OCN, the program’s coordinator, started out part-time with Palliative Services. JeffSteele also works as the medical director for Kitsap Hospice. Since the launch of the program last October, demand has grown so much that Lorber, who’s worked at Harrison for six years, became involved with Palliative Care Services full-time. The team also includes a palliative care nurse practitioner.

“We’ve way surpassed our anticipated numbers, more than double,” JeffSteele said several months after the launch.

The role of the team is to coordinate with the patients’ physicians while making sure the patients’ wishes are being considered. “We give out a lot of information so they know all their choices as the disease progresses and they can make informed decisions,” Lorber said. They also provide symptom management, prescribing medications or making recommendations to physicians.

Palliative services are part of end-of-life care that has become a more widely discussed topic in the last decade, and is being offered at more hospitals. Medical providers are trained to pursue aggressive measures to extend patients life, and part of palliative care is to decide at what point those measures should stop, based on the patient’s wishes, and how to make a patient comfortable as the illness progresses.

JeffSteele said it’s important for anyone, of any age, to have a conversation with family members about their end-of-life wishes and create a living will and advance directives, in case an accident or terminal illness arises. If people don’t make decisions ahead of time, “it puts the family in the position to make those decisions and it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Harrison Medical may extend the service in the future to outpatients, but the hospital doesn’t offer “death with dignity” (assisted suicide) services.

JeffSteele said palliative care is a growing trend that will continue, especially as the baby boomer population ages. By year 2030, the number of people over age 85 will double, to 10 million. And many people don’t want to die in the hospital but prefer to be at home.

Patients referred for palliative services at Harrison can continue to receive curative treatment as well, and the team doesn’t replace the patient’s attending physician. “It’s more about finding out what the patients want…and providing comfort care,” JeffSteele said.

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