Columnist Summers

Del. Amy Summers

West Virginia cancer patients and their families need all the support they can get. A new State Advisory Coalition on Palliative Care will improve the quality of life of these seriously ill patients and their families by providing increased access to and awareness of palliative care.

While the availability of palliative care services is growing in West Virginia, many residents lack an understanding of palliative care and how they can benefit. The coalition will educate residents and establish a system for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care.

As an emergency department nurse who has for many years cared for individuals dealing with serious diseases, I have seen how difficult life is for patients and their loved ones managing disease and also at life's end. I’ve also experienced it as three of my family members have struggled through the management of cancer, and will be, indelibly etched in my memory forever.

My younger brother died in the hospital from melanoma at the age of 39. Like the majority of West Virginians, he didn’t want to die in the hospital. One of his last words were, ‘I want to go home.’ That phrase is stuck in my mind.

Now I am helping care for my older brother who is in the final stages of colon cancer. Because of hospice we have a team of people who support us, help control his pain and are available 24 hours a day seven days a week. My brother gets to stay at home where he is comfortable and happy.

November was National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and I am reaching out to help residents in West Virginia understand palliative care and the importance of planning for the type of care they would want if they were facing a serious or life-limiting illness.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with a serious disease. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided alongside curative treatment. The goal is to relieve symptoms and stress and improve the quality of life. All a patient or family member has to do is ask for it.

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists working with the patient, caregivers and family members. The team provides an extra layer of support and works in partnership with the patient’s primary doctor.

The palliative care team spends time talking and listening to the patient and the family, making sure the patient understands treatment options and choices. This gives the patient more control over their care. This type of palliative care helps people who are chronically or seriously ill to live the best life they can.

Palliative care is provided in a variety of settings including the hospital, outpatient clinic and at home throughout West Virginia. Most insurance plans and Medicare and Medicaid cover all or part of palliative care, just as with other hospital and medical services.

The State Advisory Coalition on Palliative Care will expand palliative care in West Virginia by addressing barriers and identifying innovative solutions. The council will be made up of health care experts and groups such as the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care who encourages patients to communicate the type of medical treatment they would or would not want with their providers and family members.

The coalition will focus on provider training, the establishment of resources and overall access to palliative care. It can also give a policy recommendation to the legislature if they think there is something that needs to be a law.

By coordinating care and treating the whole person, not just their disease, palliative care empowers patients to focus on getting better, resulting in better health outcomes and reduced costs. It helps the seriously ill to live the best life they can.

For more information on palliative care, see www.getpalliativecare.orgor www.wvendoflife.org.

Delegate Amy Summers (R-Taylor) represents the 49th District in the state House of Delegates.

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