Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Palliative Care Focuses on Living Your Best Life

Posted by James P. Morgan, MD
Director, Supportive Care on November 16, 2021
James P. Morgan, MD

Palliative care is often misunderstood. To many people the term is synonymous with hospice care and is associated with dying. However, palliative care is about living the fullest life possible for those with serious illness, regardless of life expectancy.

At Holy Name, we've recently reorganized palliative care under the umbrella of "Supportive Care." This name reflects the nature of the care; it does not connote limited life expectancy or conjure anxiety.

Supportive Care provides pain management, symptom control, psychosocial and emotional support, and spiritual care to patients whose illnesses have a significant impact on their quality of life. Our services are not dependent on life expectancy or prognosis. In addition, Supportive Care services extend to patients’ caregivers and families.

Easing the Burden

Serious illness is traumatic. Supportive care aims to ease the burden. Sometimes the care is needed over the course of decades, as advances in medicine have increased life expectancy for those with a number of serious conditions.

Some diseases for which patients need ongoing medical care and supportive care are progressive and may not yet have a cure, such as dementia, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. In other cases, patients with chronic illness may be pursuing a cure but still need significant supportive services. For instance, a patient with chronic heart failure might need help dealing with breathlessness and constricted activity while waiting for heart surgery that could improve their condition. Likewise, a cancer patient might need a host of supportive care services while pursuing medical treatment that could lead to remission.

A Holistic, Team Approach

Supportive Care utilizes medication and other modalities to ease physical pain and discomfort, and the expertise of a team of caregivers to address attendant issues. Our team can include nursing and medical specialists, pharmacists, social services coordinators, bereavement and spiritual counselors, as well as specially trained volunteers. Holy Name neuropsychologist John B. Fechter, PsyD, works closely with the Supportive Care team to evaluate and treat patients who are living with extended illnesses and their family members. This multidisciplinary approach allows for a holistic and individualized approach to supporting patients and their caregivers through a difficult journey.

As healthcare providers, communication is one of our most effective tools. Supportive Care team members work to clarify patients' goals of care, and then help guide them in understanding what treatments and resources are available to them and their families, consistent with those stated goals.

Most often patients begin receiving supportive care while hospitalized. However, it is becoming clearer that many of those who could benefit from supportive care are living at home or in skilled nursing facilities. We have a Supportive Care outpatient clinic here at Holy Name and plan to expand into the community, working closely with home care providers and nursing facilities.

Supportive care is about living and maintaining and enhancing quality of life for patients, loved ones and caregivers.

James P. Morgan, MD, is Director of Supportive Care at Holy Name. He specializes in palliative care, symptom management and end-of-life issues.

To make an appointment for a Supportive Care consultation at Holy Name, call 201-379-5610.