By Phylicia L. Woods and Keisha L. Jackson
America’s Heroes Group Roundtable for Military Family Caregivers was honored to have cancer patient advocate Phylicia L. Woods as a recent guest panelist during a discussion of palliative care.
Woods explained that when battling or caring for someone with a serious illness, one needs to maximize all available resources. Palliative care is specialized medical care for patients with serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cardiac disease that focuses on pain and symptom management.
Palliative care works to improve the quality of life for both patient and family.
This specialized care treats the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. To optimize the care, it is critical that palliative care is provided alongside curative care. In some cases, palliative care has been shown to increase length of life.
Palliative care is provided by a team that may consist of medical doctors, nurses, chaplains, nutritionists, occupational therapists, social workers, speech therapists, psychologists, and others. These specialists focus on lessening the impact of physical issues on emotional well-being, to improve comfort and quality of life for patients and family. This team works alongside the patient’s medical team – that treats their underlying serious illness – to optimize the care the patient receives.
Palliative care is often confused with hospice care. Though both provide better quality of life, palliative care can be offered at any stage of a serious illness. In contrast, hospice care is usually offered during the last phase of an incurable illness.
Patients, or their designee, can ask their medical team for a referral to palliative care. Patients should consult with their insurance provider about plan coverage and cost concerns. Typically, Medicare and Medicaid cover palliative care.
For active duty military and veterans, palliative care is a major medical commitment across the veteran’s health system. It is included in every enrolled veteran’s uniformed benefits package. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a highly respected delivery model for palliative and hospice care that focuses on supporting the needs of veterans and their caregivers.
Palliative care is needed now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented strain on our health care system. The crisis has highlighted the need for a robust palliative workforce. The guiding principles of palliative care can be used to respond to COVID patients’ needs, manage symptoms, and provide support for families.
Phylicia Woods is a cancer patient advocate. She has spent several years developing strategies to ensure federal legislation and policies promote access to preventive services and affordable care for cancer patients and survivors.
Keisha L. Jackson is a 22-year retired Air Force veteran. After caring for her mother who had Stage 4 inoperable lung cancer, Keisha started learning about caregiver resources to share with other caregivers.