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Comforting patients with palliative care

To learn more about palliative care at Shannon Medical Center, call 325.481.6438.

Multiple changes have taken place on the sixth floor of Shannon Medical Center over the last several months. The north side of the unit was previously home to the inpatient rehab unit before its move to the third floor of the St. John’s campus in April. Now, after renovations—part of the facility modernization plan—the palliative care unit has a new home at Shannon.

The palliative care unit, also known as 6West, occupies nine beds and has a 24/7 team that includes a palliative care physician, a registered nurse with specialized expertise in palliative care, two direct care nurses and one tech located on the unit.

"The palliative care unit provides a high level of care to patients with terminal illnesses or uncontrollable pain or care issues," says Bobby Bluford, BSN, RN, Administrative Director of Medical-Surgical Services. "Palliative care is an alternative therapy to traditional medicine. It is often thought to be synonymous with hospice, but they are not exactly the same. These patients might be preparing for the transition into hospice care, but they or their family members might not be ready to make that decision. Or, the patient might not be near death, they just suffer from chronic pain. The end goal is the same—we want to make these patients comfortable."

Examples of chronic pain issues the unit sees are neuropathy and chronic wounds, which can be extremely painful and debilitating. Patients with terminal cancers or illnesses also use the unit.

"Over time, these patients may become tolerant to the pain medications they receive, which could necessitate admission to the unit," Bluford says. "They start as an outpatient, but as time goes on, their condition might get worse instead of improving. That's where palliative care comes in. The goal is not necessarily to treat the disease process, but instead the goal is to address the symptoms. We want to ensure they are maintaining a level of comfort."

In addition to patient care, the palliative care team educates the families about the treatment options and what they can expect upon discharge—when the patient goes home or to another facility.

"It's important to have this unit at Shannon," says Becky Fuentes, MSN, RN, NE-BC, HACP, Associate Chief Nursing Officer. "The patient might be ready to go home, but most often the families are not prepared or equipped to provide the level of care and comfort the patient needs."

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