What is Palliative Care?
How is it Different From Hospice?
Many people confuse palliative care with hospice. Hospice uses palliative care to improve the quality of life in terminal illness, but palliative care is not always about end-of-life issues. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life by relieving symptoms no matter what the prognosis.
In the face of any serious illness, controlling symptoms has been proven to be vital to successful outcomes. Some of the most difficult symptoms include pain, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, anorexia or lack of appetite, and shortness of breath.
Palliative care encompasses the use of Eastern and Western medicine and alternative treatments such as medications, oxygen, herbs, therapeutic massage, energy conservation, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture and acupressure, hypnosis and spiritual care. Some or all of these may be used to achieve the stress and symptom relief and control.
Better Able to Tolerate Curative Measures
When symptoms are well controlled, patients are better able to tolerate treatments necessary for curative measures such as chemotherapy and radiation. As a result, the curative treatments usually have a better chance of working than when the body is under stress and fighting the process. The quality of life is also improved tremendously for patients and their families.
Like hospice care, palliative care is provided by a team of health care professionals including doctors, nurses and social workers who have been trained in palliative care. The team may also include specially trained pharmacists, nutritionists, massage therapists, chaplains or other spiritual care providers all working together with the patient’s personal health care professionals to secure the best possible outcome.
Customized to Meet Patient’s Needs
Palliative care is customized to the needs of the patient and changes as the patient’s needs change. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What one patient requires for palliative treatment may be very different from another; even with the same diagnosis and treatments.
While palliative care can be very successful in helping patients achieve a cure or remission of their disease, in the event that the curative treatment is unsuccessful, or the patient wishes to discontinue treatment, the palliative team can help the patient transition to hospice care when the time is right.
Palliative care is most often provided in the hospital setting, but may be available from home health care agencies as well. It is a growing field that offers expanding opportunities to health care professionals and allied services as well.
February so far has brought a touching outpouring of support for the work our dedicated staff does in the clinic. One of our best and most modest nurse volunteers (thus name withheld) surprised us with a gift of money she collected from her friends and neighbors. She and a few friends organized a neighborhood clothing swap. Participants traded their jackets, sweaters, pants and skirts that they no longer wanted to wear for their neighbors’ cache of gently used clothing. Then, instead of paying one another for the clothes, they took out their check books, dug out their cash and made Health Care Access Clinic the beneficiary of their weekend swap meet. Our volunteer undoubtedly added the extra cash to make it an even $1,000.
When we are presented with a gift like this, we are humbled by the creativity and effort that our supporters employ to find new ways to help our patients. The $1,000 we received will pay for the care of three patients all year long, PLUS, purchase seven lab test cartridges for our new in-house laboratory. We can turn every dollar into $5.44 worth of medical care thanks to the generosity of our community volunteers, LMH donations and plain, old-fashioned frugalness.
As special as that was, we were all moved when a girl came to the clinic with another envelope filled with cash and checks. This extraordinary girl decided she wanted to forgo birthday presents and instead dedicate her birthday celebration to helping those who are uninsured and need medical care. She asked her guests to bring small cash donations instead of presents for herself and then presented the donations to us. The amount was smaller than our first surprise, but the act was huge. It reminded me of a favorite quote from Colin Powell: “Giving back involves a certain amount of giving up.” This exceptional birthday girl understands that better than most. How many of us can say we have done as much?
If you feel moved to make a donation to the Clinic, large or small, or if you have medical items or office supplies you’d like to donate, give in to that feeling and do it! Better yet, if you can find a creative way to engage your friends, co-workers or neighbors in a joint effort to generate a gift to the clinic, we will happily celebrate your generosity and creativity! Names optional.
Affordable Care Act
Like other businesses, whether for-profit or non-profit, we have to have money to keep our doors open. When having conversations about funding, I am often asked if Health Care Access Clinic is still needed now that the Affordable Care Act is in place. The answer is a resounding yes. The ACA or ObamaCare” as it’s called provides financial help for moderate income people to buy insurance on the Marketplace. The original law also required states to expand Medicaid for low income adults, but in its present form in Kansas, it does nothing for low income adults who need insurance. The ACA originally required all states to expand their Medicaid program to cover adults living at 138% of the federal poverty level and below ($15,865 for a single person, $30,660 for a family of four). The Supreme Court struck down that provision and told states they didn’t have to expand if they didn’t want to. The federal government offered incentives to states to expand by paying 100% of the cost for the first three years, with a total state share rising to 10% by 2020. Our state has not expanded Medicaid. So, for everyone living below the Marketplace cut off, access to insurance is still far out of reach.
That’s where Health Care Access Clinic comes in. We see the people who desperately need care who are too poor to buy insurance on the Marketplace because they don’t qualify for a subsidy and yet also don’t qualify for Medicaid. In Kansas we call Medicaid “KanCare” and the eligibility requirements are nearly the most restrictive in the nation. The result is there are an estimated 315,000 Kansans age 19-64 with incomes under the new eligibility threshold. Of those, 127,000 are uninsured and at least 9,000 live in Douglas County. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau).
At the end of the week, we will be mailing a letter to past supporters asking for a financial contribution to help us continue to provide life-saving access to care in our clinic. We do not receive any financial support from the federal government and only $220,000 from the state, about a fifth of our cash budget. We receive critical support from Douglas County and the United Way as well, but the bulk of the money that lets us treat the sick and struggling people who live in our communities comes from you. This is a critical time for us, as we strive to rise to the challenge of treating patient with complex medical conditions with nowhere else to go. To donate today, click on our “donate” link and give online. If your civic or church organization can help with a fundraising event, give me a call at 785-841-5760 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to have you as a partner in saving the lives of the most vulnerable citizens of Douglas County.
– Shelly Wakeman