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Palliative care team helps patients and providers

     Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with the Emory Pallia-tive Care Services Team. As the service’s literature will tell you, palliative care provides “comprehensive interdisciplinary care, focusing primarily on promoting quality of life for patients living with a serious, chronic, or terminal illness and for their families, thus assuring physical comfort and psychosocial support.” If these words could only capture what the palliative care team does with and for patients and families every day. . .
      My tour was conducted by Pete Basler, COO of both Wesley Woods Center and the Center for Rehabilitation Medicine, along with Dr. Melissa Mahoney and palliative nursing coordinator Donna Arena. The service is co-directed by Drs. Mahoney and Stephanie Grossman, both board-certified physicians in palliative care within our Emory Hospital Medicine Unit, which is directed by Dr. Mark Williams.
     Our first stop was a meeting with nurse and physician staff on the transplant unit. There was impassioned discussion of their mission in helping ensure success and recovery for patients undergoing major and difficult surgeries. Because we now have a team dedicated to minimizing pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, breathing difficulty, fatigue, and depression, our patients recover better and families cope better. In partnership with the palliative care team, the transplant unit staff are able to provide higher-quality care and better support for patients and their families.
     Our next stop was a cancer unit. There we met with nursing staff and an oncology resident, who talked about a patient who was weighing the pros and cons of aggressive treatment for a difficult cancer. Essentially, the patient wanted to know, “Would the cure be worse than the disease?” The resident had come face to face with how important palliative care is to patients and how its availability helps expand the possibilities for finding effective treatments. This patient was not averse to taking risks and to pursuing the most aggressive course. But he needed to know what could and would be done to ensure that he wouldn’t suffer unnecessary pain and other debilitating discomforts in the process. The fact that Emory Healthcare has a palliative care team, with the latest expertise in relieving physical and other forms of suffering, provides much needed confidence and support—not only for patients and their families but also for nursing and medical professionals throughout our system who help patients face tough conditions and decisions every day.
     Our palliative care service is a relatively new and multidisciplinary unit within Emory Healthcare. It brings nurses and physicians with expertise in palliative care together with specialists in anesthesia, pharmacy, social work, pastoral care, and other areas. The team is able to augment the scope of clinical services, enabling us to provide optimal care, support, and comfort in ethical and appropriate ways to patients and their families as they make decisions about sustaining life and quality of life at vulnerable points in their lives. Overall, palliative care is moving our culture toward a point where we can more easily and humanely deal with the end of life.
     It is especially gratifying that the proposal for this service was originally presented in a project by fellows in the Woodruff Leadership Academy. Through the WLA, we are striving to develop and enable leaders and leadership skills within the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. The success of this project offers a strong confirmation of our mission and new hope for our patients.





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