November is Palliative Care Month. What is palliative care? Palliative care provides relief to a patient with a serious illness through symptom and pain management. The goal of palliative care is to provide improved comfort to patients and families while maintaining the highest possible quality of life – even if a cure cannot be reached. The Freeman Health System palliative care team also supports patients and families with emotional and spiritual needs.
Palliative care at Freeman is provided by a specially trained team of registered nurses, Megan Spiering, Katie Adams, Patricia Johnson and me, and a palliative care physician, Dr. Christopher Black. Together, we educate patients and families about an illness or disease and strive to minimize symptoms while providing compassionate care and emotional support – encouraging the patient to live a meaningful life. Communication with patients and families is key. Through meetings and consultations, we hope the patient and family make timely, informed decisions.
“One of the toughest yet most-rewarding times in palliative care is having a tough conversation with a patient and his or her family,” said Dr. Black. “Regardless of how difficult it is, when everyone comes to the same conclusion, we can focus on relieving a lot of pain and suffering for everyone involved.”
Some may assume palliative care is only used for patients with a terminal illness or end-of-life care, but it involves much more. After I joined Freeman in 2004, our team initiated and implemented the palliative care program. Since then, it has grown and become a valuable resource to many patients and their families, and we hope that continues. Working with many physicians and co-workers, we encourage palliative care to begin in the earlier stages of an illness – when patients often do not understand the options or possibilities for improvements. Palliative care provides understanding and yields a better and smoother transition for all in the future.
Not only do we work to relieve pain and suffering, we also work to reduce stress on patients, families and caregivers. The palliative care team serves as a resource to many others in the healthcare system, such as social workers, chaplains, nutritionists, rehabilitation specialists and so forth. We assist in coordination of complicated care plans across many departments to better clarify goals and priorities, helping with the understanding of treatment options and offering support, counseling and any other resources necessary. Providing comfort and guidance during all facets of an illness is what we do – this is how we provide care.
For more information on Freeman Palliative Care services, please visit freemanhealth.com/palliative-care or call 417.347.4094.
Gwynn Caruthers, RN, CHPN, earned her nursing degree from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She is not only a registered nurse but is also a Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse. Gwynn joined Freeman Health System in 2004 after moving from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She started the palliative care program at Freeman – now serving as the Palliative Care Program Coordinator. Gwynn was named the Missouri Rural Health Champion for 2015 by Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for her work with palliative care.