When Dorothy Daniel was admitted to Chandler Regional Hospital, she and her family got something they weren’t expecting: Care targeted to help her after she left the hospital.
A member of Chandler Regional’s palliative care team visited Daniel, 78, on the first day of her hospital stay Oct. 31. The team, which started a year ago, offers help to patients whose chronic health condition is terminal, but who could live many more weeks or even years.
Daniel, who has been living with terminal cancer in her lymph nodes since November 2001, got better pain medicine after a member of the palliative care team took a closer look at her problems with chronic pain. "I had no idea what (palliative care) was," said Daniel’s daughter, Linda Teehan, who is taking care of her mother at her Sun Lakes home. "It was very important because we were trying many medications. Nothing was really taking care of the pain."
The specialized help comes from an 11-member team that provides patients assistance with everything from health problems to financial and religious needs. Although patients have traditionally turned to hospice for end-of-life needs, palliative care can provide help long before death — a growing need as more people die from long-term, chronic conditions, said Donna Nolde, Chandler Regional’s director of palliative care.
"These are the patients that fall through the cracks," she said. "Most of us will die from some sort of chronic illness ... so we need to prepare for that."
Many people are unaware of palliative care, which treats symptoms rather than curing a person’s condition, said Dr. Pete Hedrick, medical director of the palliative care team.
Yet the need is everywhere. Hedrick said he’s seen permanently comatose patients whose families have not been counseled about whether to continue life-sustaining treatments, a service that a palliative care specialist could provide.
Palliative care can help patients and their families prepare for death by encouraging advanced directives, a written notice of a patient’s treatment preferences, or the appointment of a medical power of attorney, said Judy Esway, hospital chaplain and a member of the palliative care team. Esway said many people at the hospital end up on a ventilator or in the intensive care unit before they die because they didn’t make their endof-life wishes known.
Members of the team can also help patients with financial problems find free medication or sometimes free medical care, such as outpatient chemotherapy, Hedrick said.
Team members include specialists in nursing, social work, critical care, religion and case management. The team recently won an award from the hospital’s owner for being the best palliative care team among 42 hospitals owned by Catholic Healthcare West.
"They tell you whatever you need, we do," Teehan said. "It takes the burden off the family."