Healthwatch 16: Community-Based Palliative Care

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Medical experts say northeastern and central Pennsylvania is a region that has an older population; more specifically, an older population dealing with multiple chronic illnesses.

Some families report being overwhelmed when it comes to coordinating care between multiple doctors.

There's something called palliative care that aims to address that, and Allied Services has started a community-based palliative care program.

Olga Gula is 89 years old, was one of 13 children, married in 1950 to Thomas her husband who died a few years ago.

She lives in an assisted-living facility in Clarks Summit and enjoys having her family around her, including one of her great-grandchildren, little Hayden.

Lauren Davis tells us her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, has a long cardiac history. She was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat over the summer then had a stroke a few months later.

"It totally changed her life. And that's when we integrated palliative medicine," Davis said.

It was Olga's cardiologist who recommended palliative care, something she now receives as part of community-based palliative care from Allied Services.

Dr. Jack Digwood explains palliative care is for patients with serious or advanced illnesses, but it's not equivalent to hospice care.

"All hospice care is palliative in the sense that all hospice care is directed at symptom management. But not all palliative medicine is hospice," Dr. Digwood explained.

Dr. Digwood is medical director of the community-based palliative care program at allied, as well as the northeast director for palliative care for Geisinger.

He points out when someone has an illness, curable or incurable, a person's definition of quality of life is subjective. Palliative care tries to define quality of life and work with a patient's various doctors and family members to create it.

Community-based means it happens at home, as opposed to in a hospital or clinic.

"We often believe that people just want to live as long as possible, they want to be recurrently hospitalized if that's necessary. And that often is in conflict with people's actual preferences," explained Dr. Digwood.

Lauren says Olga's doctors now work together and with the palliative care coordinator.

"At the end of the day, palliative care has increased my grandmother's quality of life, but not just hers, but our family's as well. We know that there's someone there outside of her PCP/cardiologist we can call when there's any questions."

Allied Services community-based palliative care program started about three months ago and officials there say already 60 people have been enrolled.

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