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Vickie Powell: Palliative care eases burden of serious illness

HAVE you or your loved one been diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, renal disease, or dementia?

Do you have more questions than answers about how to take care of your loved one? Are you feeling overwhelmed, alone or stressed?

This is where palliative care can help, and sooner than you think.

Palliative care is a board-certified medical specialty that seeks to improve quality of life for people at any stage of a serious illness, even those seeking curative treatments. Patients can receive consults as soon as they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

Studies show that palliative care reduces high levels of suffering and distress, improves communication among patients, families and healthcare providers, addresses the needs of family caregivers, reduces unwanted, unnecessary and painful interventions, can improve survival, improves patient and family satisfaction, and improves quality of care while reducing costs.

Since Oct. 1, 2012, The Palliative Care Center has provided individual consulting and education to hundreds of individuals and community groups. The program offers outpatient programs that make a difference in people's lives -easing their pain, breathlessness, anxiety, depression - and improving their quality of life.  

In just the past year, The Palliative Care Center has received 200 referrals for consults, made almost 400 patient visits and now has a daily census of about 100 patients throughout the 16-county service area.

Palliative care addresses the quality of life in four areas: physical, emotional, social and spiritual.  Palliative care is for people facing serious and chronic illness such as cancer, lung disease, heart disease, renal disease, dementia, neuromuscular diseases, and frailty.  

This palliative care program is not hospice. Serious illnesses receive aggressive care with palliative care, which increases as the disease progresses.

Hospice is recommended when the prognosis is less than six months and the focus is comfort care. Palliative patients may have several years left and can receive curative treatments.

Anyone can refer a patient for palliative care. The team at our Palliative Care Center consists of a medical director, nurse practitioners, a community nurse educator and several social workers and counselors.

We assist the patient and family in concert with their primary care physician and other health professionals.

Palliative care provides supportive care and increasing quality of care and life. "We care for the physical, mental, and spiritual problems of our patients and their families," said Dr. Amy Wirts, medical director.

Palliative caregivers also have an education mission, providing workshops for faith leaders and caregivers on topics such as how to provide grief and loss support and how to minister to someone with dementia.

Powell is director of The PalliativeCare Center, a program of Kanawha Hospice Care. Contact her at (304) 941-1950, or



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