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Palliative Care Manages Pain and Symptoms During Serious Illness

Palliative Care Manages Pain and Symptoms During Serious Illness

By Regina O’Donnell, NP


National Palliative Care Day falls in October. The goal in establishing this day of recognition is to help people understand how palliative care can improve the quality of life for someone experiencing pain and discomfort related to life-threatening illness.


What is palliative care?


Palliative care is designed to meet the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people who have life-threatening illness. They may or may not be pursuing active life-extending treatment. They may be suffering from acute episodes of chronic illness that cannot be cured. Or they may be recovering from a bad accident and need help with pain control at home while they heal. Palliative care services can be provided in the home, for inpatients at Cayuga Medical Center, and for residents of nursing homes, adult homes, and assisted living facilities.


What is the difference between palliative care and hospice?


Palliative care represents the continuum of services available to people who are seriously ill and are suffering pain and other disturbing symptoms resulting from the illness or its treatment. Palliative care is offered to anyone with a serious illness, whether or not it is life threatening. Hospice is part of this continuum of care; however, hospice is end-of-life care and is not available to people who are still pursuing curative therapy. Thus people who would otherwise be eligible for hospice, but who want to explore experimental curative therapies, are ideal candidates for palliative care.


Who provides palliative care?


Palliative care providers are health-care professionals who are experts in pain and symptom management, as well as psychological and spiritual counseling, for both patient and family. Local palliative care providers can be found at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County and at Cayuga Medical Center.


What kinds of problems can palliative care address?


The medical director of Palliative Care Services, Dr. Eric Lessinger, works with each patient’s own physician and with a team of certified palliative care nurses to address issues such as: pain, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, weakness, digestive difficulties, and other physical symptoms related to the disease or its treatment.


Social workers and spiritual-care counselors are also available to provide short-term counseling and support for palliative care patients and their families. The counseling team may address emotional aspects of coping with a serious illness, communication problems and stress within the family regarding the illness, advance directives, financial concerns, and spiritual needs. All of the team members are excellent resources on a wide variety of community services that may be helpful to someone coping with serious illness.


How does the palliative care team work with my doctor?


Whether you contact us directly about palliative care services or your doctor refers you to us, we all work together to help you and your family. Members of the palliative care team contact your doctor, with your permission, for background information on your illness and the problems you are facing that we can help with.  We often assist doctors with patients who are having complicated pain issues. If your doctor is concentrating on a curative therapy that produces unpleasant side effects, the palliative care team focuses on managing those side effects.


How do palliative care services work in the hospital setting?


Palliation is becoming an integral aspect of the hospital experience. At Cayuga Medical Center, palliative care is provided by a joint team of caregivers from the medical center and Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County. The team includes Dr. Lessinger, nurses trained in palliative care, medical social workers, hospital chaplains, and discharge planning nurses. The entire team can be available to help, or you can self-select the particular services you need.


When is it best to contact the palliative care team?


We like to meet people at the beginning of a serious illness, before a crisis, because there are many services we can provide. Our goal is to focus on more than just the illness; to help patients and their families maintain the highest possible quality of life through the illness, making each day the best it can be.


You can call Palliative Care Services directly at (607) 272-0212, or you can ask your primary-care doctor or hospitalist for a referral for palliative care. We welcome inquiries from patients, family members, doctors, and other professional caregivers.


Regina O’Donnell is a hospice and palliative nurse practitioner for Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County. She is also a member of the Palliative Care Team at Cayuga Medical Center. She can be reached at 272-0212.








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