ST. LOUIS – Mercy Hospital St. Louis is the first in the Midwest and one of only 23 in the U.S. to receive advanced palliative care certification by The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest accrediting body in health care.
The term “palliative care” often conjures pictures of a dying patient and grieving family, much like hospice. In reality, palliative care is for patients and their families when dealing with a serious, progressive illness. It’s about trying to move forward and be active.
“It’s not about dying. It’s for living, surviving and recovering,” said Ann Prebil, a Mercy palliative care patient.
Palliative care addresses a patient’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs and facilitates patient independence, access to information and choice. The team includes physicians, nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, chaplains, dietitians, physical therapy, integrative medicine such as music therapy and massage therapy. This team works alongside a patient’s primary care physician or specialist to provide an extra layer of support. Patients experience firsthand the benefits of Mercy’s team-based approach.
“When I was in the hospital, the palliative care team worked with my GYN oncologist to guide my family through options, helped me manage my nausea caused by chemo which ultimately allowed me the energy to get active again,” Prebil said. “Thanks to my doctor and palliative care team, I have continued to work and travel to Europe many times throughout my treatments. It has enabled me to live my life.”
Cancer is just one example of where palliative care connects the dots. Patients with conditions such as severe congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and dementia all benefit from a team-based approach.
“We are another set of ears to hear what seriously ill patients have to say, with a focus on symptom relief of their illness,” said Dr. Susan Pearson, medical director of palliative care at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “We can help the doctor, patient and family work through different scenarios and treatment options, make recommendations, help with advanced care planning and work with their primary provider.”
In 2004, Mercy’s Gail Hurt, a registered nurse, put the palliative care program at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in motion. Dr. Pearson joined the team in July 2008 as the physician champion. Today, the multi-speciality team includes a second physician and four additional nurse practitioners who not only see patients in the hospital but at the outpatient clinic. Additionally, the palliative care team visits patients at community skilled and long-term nursing facilities.
“When being treated for life-limiting illnesses, our patients must be full participants in their care decision, enabling them to choose how they want to live,” said Lynn Britton, president and CEO of Mercy. “The true goal of palliative care is: to educate, to empower and to respect our patients and their choices.”
The standards and expectations for palliative care certification were developed using experts in palliative care and key stakeholder organizations. More than 1,500 leading U.S. hospitals today have a palliative care team, and The Joint Commission recognition of the importance of palliative care to overall quality of care represents an important step forward for the field.
Launched September 2011, The Joint Commission Advanced Certification Program for Palliative Care recognizes hospital inpatient programs that demonstrate exceptional patient and family-centered care and optimize the quality of life for patients of all ages with serious illness.
As the first hospital to be certified, Mercy Hospital St. Louis will share its best practices with palliative care programs across Mercy in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
“We want people to view palliative care as an integral part of care that maximizes the life experience of patients who have many years yet to live,” said Dr. Bob Bergamini, medical director of Mercy’s palliative care.
Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the United States and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,900 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In the east Missouri region, Mercy’s services include a 979-bed hospital in St. Louis, 187-bed hospital in Washington, 251-bed hospital in Festus and Mercy Clinic, a 550-member multispecialty physician organization.