Palliative care grant aids holistic treatment program

Southern Oregon residents suffering from serious illness will have better access to palliative care thanks to a $170,850 grant from The Cambria Health Foundation to Lovejoy Hospice.

The grant will provide two years of funding for a new program that offers a holistic approach to care that includes focus on pain and symptom management, as well as emotional, psychological and spiritual support, in Jackson and Josephine counties, as well as parts of Douglas County, said Maddie Andrews, Cambria's program officer.

Palliative care is specialized medical care aimed at easing suffering for people with serious illness, regardless of their diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family, said Deneen Silva, executive director of Lovejoy Hospice.

"Palliative care doesn't mean giving up on curative treatment. It means improving a patient's quality of life at every stage of treatment," said Silva.

No hospital-based or home-based palliative care program is available in Josephine or Douglas counties, with only limited in- and out-patient options in Jackson County, said Silva.

Palliative-care programs are typically offered in a hospital or in a hospice setting in the last six months or so of a patient's life. The new palliative-care program will expand services to the home and provide care for those who are suffering from chronic health conditions but are not necessarily at the end stage of life, she said.

"It broadens the scope of palliative care that hospice can provide," said Silva.

Assistance is available to all age ranges — from children to seniors — who suffer "life-limiting illnesses," she said.

"And nobody is ever turned away," Silva added.

Dr. Rebecca Hutchison, Lovejoy's medical director, is an internist certified in hospice and palliative care. Hutchison's days are spent traveling to patient homes where she provides symptom management.

She also provides patient and family education about the patient's illness, helps them coordinate referrals to community resources, and discusses their advance-care planning and end-of-life wishes.

Hutchison cited an example of a man in his late 70s who suffers from congestive heart failure. The man has been receiving care from his primary-care physician and his cardiologist. He has been frequently hospitalized for multiple needs related to his condition — shortness of breath, edema, loss of appetite, she said.

The man was in and out of the hospital, hooked up to machines, treated and made comfortable, then discharged, only to be back in the hospital again in a month or so, Hutchison said.

"He really wanted not to go to the hospital again," Hutchison said.

The patient was not at a point where he wanted to stop having his symptoms treated, but he also did not want to enter a hospice facility, she said.

"He is struggling. And his wife is struggling," Hutchison said.

In her initial evaluation, Hutchison focuses on each patient's symptoms and how best to address them, she said.

"It is a very holistic approach," she said, adding she may spend up to two hours with a patient.

"We are having good, meaningful conversations," she said.

Spiritual issues and questions frequently surface in the last one to two years of a person's life, Hutchison said.

"I will also talk about what they want at the end of their life."

Hutchison said studies show early provision of palliative care for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation improved quality of life and decreased depression. With some forms of cancer, it actually increased longevity, Hutchison said.

The coverage area for the three-county rural program is 2,000 square miles.

Founded in 1981 in Grants Pass as a community service organization, Lovejoy Hospice has approximately 50 staff and 50 volunteers who provide care and support to those in need. To learn more about the palliative-care program, call 541-474-1193.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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