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Mount Nittany Health relieves suffering of chronically ill in community

STATE COLLEGE — Chronic diseases affect approximately 133 million Americans–representing more than 40 percent of the country’s population–and some 40 million Americans are limited in their usual activities due to one or more chronic health conditions.

To improve the lives of patients in the community who are dealing with serious chronic illnesses, Mount Nittany Health announced a new program focusing on palliative medical care.

The new Palliative Care Program, available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis, prioritizes symptom management, emotional and spiritual support, help with daily activities, and help with health care decision making for patients.

“Palliative medicine may be right for you if you are facing pain, emotional distress, and other symptoms due to a serious illness,” says Karen Brown, MD, palliative medicine physician. “Palliative medicine is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and can be provided along with a patient’s current treatment.”

Patients with serious illnesses including cancer, advanced cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease or advanced dementia, AIDS, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can benefit from palliative care.

In the community, many residents suffer from these types of chronic illnesses.

According to a Community Health Needs Assessment recently performed by Mount Nittany Health, the most commonly diagnosed conditions in Centre County are hypertension, high cholesterol, and arthritis–and chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes continue to be the leading causes of illness and death in the county. Some 40 percent of seniors in Centre County manage four or more chronic conditions, and about 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries 65 years or over have two or more chronic conditions.

Mental health issues are also a concern in the region. The Health Needs Assessment found that nearly one in five seniors in Centre County have a depression diagnosis–a higher proportion than the state and nation.

Through the Palliative Care Program, providers will discuss a plan of care with the patient to make sure their needs and wishes are being met, and patients can choose to receive palliative care at the same time as other measures meant to treat or cure their illness.

When considering palliative care, patients might wonder how it differs from hospice. Palliative medicine is for anyone with a serious chronic illness, can be administered at any age and any stage of an illness, and can be provided along with curative treatment. Hospice, on the other hand, provides care for terminally ill patients who have limited life expectancy, and hospice doesn’t include curative treatment for the underlying disease.

The palliative medicine team, which provides an extra layer of support and works with a patient’s primary doctor, will specifically address sources of pain and discomfort such as breathing problems, nausea, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or anxiety.

Palliative medicine also prioritizes communication between a patient, their family, and their doctors to ensure the patient’s needs and wishes are met. They can help with setting goals for care, coordinating care, and decision making, as well as provide support to ease the burden of caregivers.

“Palliative medicine focuses on the entire person, not just the illness,” says Eve Bellinger, CRNP, who works with Dr. Brown. “Our team will provide care and support to address social, psychological, emotional, or spiritual needs patients may have, as well as helping patients gain a better understanding of their condition and their choices for medical care.”

Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover all or part of palliative medicine treatment.

For more information about palliative medicine at Mount Nittany Health, please visit mountnittany.org.

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