Athens, Ga.-headquartered St. Mary’s Health System is expanding their hospital-based palliative care program outside of their walls and into patients’ homes in three Georgia counties.
St. Mary’s has offered palliative care for its inpatients for a number of years. In 2010, the hospital installed two dedicated palliative care suites that include space for patient families. In addition to direct patient care, the palliative care program has been working with patients to develop advance care plans.
The hospital system’s move comes at a time when more health care stakeholders are recognizing the value of home- and community-based care.
Home-based palliative care could reduce societal health care costs by $103 billion within the next 20 years, the nonprofit economic research group Florida TaxWatch said in a report. Palliative care in general can reduce health care costs by more than $4,000 per patient, according to a July 2017 study in Health Affairs. It can also reduce the frequency of 911 calls, emergency department visits, and unnecessary hospitalizations.
Like hospice, palliative care seeks to manage patient symptoms and help them achieve the best quality of life they can experience in light of their illnesses and in accordance with the patient and family’s needs and wishes. Unlike hospice, palliative care does not require a six-month terminal prognosis; patients can receive care concurrently with curative treatment at any point in the course of their illness.
“Left untreated, these symptoms may reduce a patient’s quality of life and put a lot of stress on their loved ones and caregivers,” said Laura Moon, a certified nurse practitioner and a member of St. Mary’s in-home palliative care team. “We understand that pain and suffering may be more than physical, so we make the resources of our whole team available. Our social workers help patients and families live with their chronic illness with quality of life and peace of mind.”
The program’s interdisciplinary teams include a physician, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers and chaplains.
More hospitals are entering the home-based palliative care space. Earlier this year, North Dakota-based CHI-St. Alexius Health System expanded its palliative care program to include outpatient and home-based services and established contracts with local nursing homes and assisted living facilities to provide care to their residents.
Palliative care is most helpful for patients with long-term illnesses such as heart failure, lung diseases, cancer, stroke, ALS, liver disease, or kidney disease, according to Petti-Jeanne Sheldon, a certified palliative care and hospice nurse and manager of St. Mary’s Hospice and Palliative Care Services.“Patients with these conditions often live for years after diagnosis, but many may also suffer pain, anxiety, depression and other problems that can take the joy out of living,” Sheldon said. “We want everyone to know that help is available.”