Palliative Care eases the burden for families

November 2, 2017

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When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic disease or condition, it can be overwhelming. Among the many unanswered questions are: Will this limit their life expectancy? Who do we turn to with questions? Will they be able to care for themselves? Who is going to care for them when they can’t?

For those who dare ‘Google’ the medical conditions, the vast and conflicting information generally only adds to the confusion. It’s possible to be burdened by the fear and anxiety of the unexpected when first diagnosed with a chronic disease condition. Most people apprehensively accept the new way of life—increases in physician visits, medications, hospitalizations, and decreased ability to do things that provide meaning. But diseases don’t have to control lives.

Palliative care is a type of specialized medical care for those living with a serious illness. Freda H. Gordon Palliative Care partners with the patient and their family to provide comfort and support when patients are first diagnosed and throughout their illness.

Jessica Willingham, RN, administrator, says, “Our team focuses on the person, not the disease.” The staff at Freda H. Gordon helps patients and families with:

• Understanding diagnoses and/or conditions.
• Guiding and supporting with difficult treatment choices related to end of life issues and advanced directives.
• Managing symptoms such as pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, shortness of breath, weight loss, and other symptoms caused by cancer or cancer treatment.
• Coping with anxiety, fear, and depression (emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual support).
• Facilitating communication between providers to create cohesive care.
• Assisting with finding and utilizing community resources.

“By treating the symptoms,” says Willingham, “we can help patients gain the strength to carry on with daily life and improve their ability to tolerate medical treatments. By improving communication, we can better help the patient understand choices for treatment, which in turn allows them to have more control over their care.”

Palliative care treats disease conditions including cancer, cardiac disease (such as congestive heart failure or CHF), lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and many more.

The palliative care team includes nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed clinical social workers, and chaplains. Willingham says, “At times, we may partner with home health to assist with other skilled needs such as physical therapy, speech therapy, dietician, and CNAs.”

Palliative care is offered to patients in their home with specialized 24-hour telephone support. “It’s important to have resources in the community that can help prevent crisis moments. Hospitalizations are very taxing and stressful on the patient, as well as the family. Most family members have to take off of work. Patients are often thrown into a healthcare environment where goals of care are directed more toward life-extending measures with little regard to quality of life. When we can help prevent a crisis and subsequently a hospitalization, we have improved the quality of life for not only the patient, but the family. It helps to put control back in their hands,” says Willingham.

“When dealing with the effects of a serious illness, you need to know you’re not alone,” notes Willingham.

The Freda H. Gordon Palliative Care team provides care to Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Hampton, Newport News, and Isle of Wight County. Most insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover all or part of palliative care services. Co-pays and deductibles may apply. To verify insurance coverage or to learn more about Freda H. Gordon Palliative Care, call 757-321- 2242 or visit www.hpctidewater.com.

- Amy Cobb

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