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Hospital promotes palliative care program

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan
By Jenna Duncan

New employees at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton are teaching patients, their families and doctors about care for serious illnesses in the hospital’s new palliative care program.

The inpatient program is designed to help patients and their families learn about long-term treatment for serious and chronic diseases, and to help them manage the pain and stress of the illness, said Timothy Harris, chief medical officer for the hospital.

“They can spend an hour with the patient and the family when busy doctors and nurses might not be able to,” Harris said. “They can explain the complex issues of the disease to the patient and their family. This is their only real occupation — making patients feel better.”

While the hospital has partnered with Faith Presbyterian Hospice in the program, those who participate aren’t necessarily dying, and if so won’t automatically go to Faith Presbyterian Hospice, Harris said.

For example, they could help a patient with severe emphysema better manage the illness.

With the partnership, though, they are able to also provide spiritual care for the patient and family.

For Owen Buntyn, a certified hospice and palliative care nurse who helped start the program, seeing the response after months getting the program off the ground has been rewarding. The program officially started in May and has had 35 patient referrals.

“From the patient’s perspective, we’re seeing people get control of their symptoms and into the right type of care quicker, which means a better experience for the patient and their families,” she said.

Seeing the work done by Buntyn and her team, which includes a social worker and doctor, has also made other hospital employees want to learn how to have these conversations with patients and aid the program, which is available to any unit of the hospital. Discussing long-term treatment options and death with patients was not previously a strength of the hospital, Harris said, so the program has already helped the hospital overall.

“The most exciting part of this is we do a much better job now in helping patients deal with these difficult conversations toward the end of their life that a lot of people feel uncomfortable about,” he said. “Not everyone is ready to die, and not everyone embraces that we all pass away some day. This really adds a benefit to us that they can sit down and have these conversations and help a patient through that process, when before we didn’t really have a mechanism to help these patients and their families.”

The program will be funded for an entire year through a grant the hospital received, and if it goes well, Harris said, the hospital will look to continue and expand the program.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.