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November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and the team at Alleo Health has robust offerings of virtual events and engagements to celebrate as well as educate the community on the differences in hospice and palliative care and the importance of advance care planning. Hospice of Chattanooga, a part of Alleo Health System, is also celebrating 40 years of not-for-profit, hometown care now expanding across 37 counties in four states.

"Alleo Health is unique in that we are a not-for-profit organization providing hospice and palliative care and the only one in the Chattanooga area," Dr. Greg Phelps, Chief Medical Officer of the Alleo Health System shared. "We serve the community, not shareholders."

He went on to share that palliative care is different from hospice in that patients may still be seeking aggressive care and may need assistance on pain and symptom management. Alleo Health offers care for both hospice and palliative patients.

"For those who don't understand, hospice is about quality of life and family when time is precious," explained Dr. Phelps. "Hospice care provides an extra layer of support for patients and their families while facing the end of life journey."

To help distinguish these two fields of care, Dr. Phelps shared the "three C's" that guide palliative care: comfort, communication, and coordination.

Beginning with comfort, nurse practitioners with Palliative Care Services are there to help with goals of care and management including the treatment of symptoms like general pain, shortness of breath, nausea and much more.

"The levels of these symptoms are often beyond the physical capabilities of family and friends to provide," Dr. Phelps said. "With palliative care, trained professionals provide this comfort and peace of mind that patients are being cared for as best as possible."

Next, communication is of the utmost importance. Dr. Phelps said that the palliative care provided through Alleo Health System creates an open discussion with patients and families about diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options to help them make an informed decision on the best route for them.

"Leading right from communication is coordination," Dr. Phelps said. "This act puts families, patients, and clinicians on the same page regarding their specific goals and objectives."

By the palliative care team's coordination, families can focus on what matters most to them like time together and making memories over trying to coordinate the next steps in treatment and beyond.

Nurse practitioners, a social worker, and physicians are all included in the Palliative Care Services team. This team works with the patient and their families to establish goals of care and implement the Three C's.

Some palliative care disease specific programs offered through Alleo Health System that are proven to reduce avoidable, uncomfortable trips to the hospital are: Heart Touch Journey for cardiac disease patients and Clear Journey for pulmonary disease patients.

Hospice care, which is subset of palliative care, leans toward patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less to live if their disease runs its natural course, according to Dr. Phelps.

"Hospice has more staff and support for those final stages including hospice aides, registered nurses, social worker, grief counselor, spiritual counseling/nondenominational chaplain, volunteers, and physicians on their team," he shared. "We still focus on exceptional care, and factor in these special roles regarding grief and support into comfort, communication, and coordination, advocating for families all the while."

When it comes to timing on making a decision regarding a palliative care or hospice care plan, Dr. Phelps said that they advise families to consider palliative care when there are questions or conflict around goals of care, advance care planning, patient desires for care (aggressive or non) or symptoms not being controlled.

Dr. Phelps also shared that the appropriate time to switch from palliative care to hospice is when a palliative patient's serious illness progresses towards the end-of-life stages and is given a prognosis of six months or less to live.

"For hospice, there are more specific guidelines, but if a patient is continuing to decline in function, eating, thinking, or the family needs additional support, then we advise them to reach out to us right away," Dr. Phelps said. "The tragedy is most doctors and patients wait too long to contact us and we often hear 'why didn't someone tell me about this sooner?'"

Hospice disease specific programs provided by Alleo Health include: Heart Touch Journey for cardiac disease patients, Clear Journey for pulmonary disease patients, and Memorable Journey for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. These programs were designed to keep patients in the comfort of their own homes and increase the quality of life.

We encourage community members to contact us any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, if they or someone they know could benefit from hospice or palliative care. A call or inquiry is not a commitment to receive care and Alleo Health is always there to answer any questions about the admission process.

Families need to know they are not alone, and they can be supported in this time of crisis above all, Dr. Phelps added.

"In symptoms, planning, and even support after a loved one's death, you don't have to walk the journey alone. There is help."

For patients who are facing life threatening or ending illnesses, hospice and palliative care are frequently an unknown gem available to help people, and Alleo Health's services are among the best. Their team is available for grief counseling services, public speaking at churches, support groups, and continuing education. Contact Alleo Health at 423-892-4289 or contact Samantha Bond at samantha_bond@hospiceofchattanooga.org.

To learn more about Hospice of Chattanooga and Palliative Care Services in greater detail, visit AlleoHealth.org or call 423-892-1533.

 

Dr. Phelps also published a new book: Education of a Hospice Doctor about his return to medical school after a 30-year career in medicine which is available on Amazon.

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