For the 11th year, palliative care in U.S. hospitals has increased and St. Vincent Healthcare is part of the growth spurt.
Today, at least 1,635 hospitals boast a palliative-care team, a 148 percent increase from 2000, according to the New York-based Center to Advance Palliative Care.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. Care is focused on relief from the symptoms, pain and stress regardless of the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for the patient and the family.
The growth of palliative care has been primarily due to the increasing number and needs of Americans living with serious and chronic illness. An estimated 116 million adults experience chronic pain, much of it preventable, and it is costing the U.S. up to $635 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
The increase is also due in part to the overwhelming burden that some caregivers feel while caring for family members. Palliative care helps address the pain and associated challenges through a partnership that includes the patient, family, clergy and medical staff.
St. Vincent Healthcare had a palliative-care team that was disbanded for unknown reasons about five years ago, when Jim Paquette was CEO.
The program was reinstated in May 2012 during Jason Barker’s administration. Palliative care, he said, is fundamental to the hospital’s healing ministry.
“Relieving the pain that our patients experience is how we honor the sacred dignity of our patients and relieve suffering,” Barker said.
The program attends to the needs of patients who are experiencing pain — whether that pain is a result of medical procedures, or if the patient is entering the last stages of life where pain management is the only care that the patient needs, Barker said. Palliative care recognizes that while a patient may not be able to be cured, there can be healing — an opportunity for closure and reconciliation with one’s loved ones, and one’s mortality.
Mary Kofstad, director of Inpatient Palliative Care and Pain Management at St. Vincent Healthcare, said patients who receive palliative care live longer.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine supports her premise. In a study of 151 patients with advanced lung cancer, those given early palliative care survived 11.6 months, nearly three months longer than those who received standard medical care.
“Palliative care should be part of treatment from diagnosis,” Kofstad said.