While the field of palliative care may not be as familiar to some as other health care specialties, it is perhaps among the most helpful and broadly inclusive specialties there is. At its most basic definition, palliative care is intended to minimize pain and other symptoms, optimizing a person’s quality of life when they have a severe, complex, or life-limiting illness.
October 8th is World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. In celebration, we shine a spotlight on palliative care and the compassionate professionals who provide it.
Renee Firestone, palliative clinical coordinator for Intrepid USA in Roanoke, Virginia, is passionate about ensuring every individual engaged in palliative care has the support and resources they need to live well at home.
“My job is to start the conversation with our patients who have a life-limiting, serious illness,” she said. “I identify any unmanaged symptoms they have from that illness, making sure they have a good understanding of the illness and where they are with the help they need.”
After that, she focuses on honoring that person’s decisions for their choices in care.
“We want from the second someone gets a diagnosis that is life-limiting, like COPD or heart failure, to have a palliative care touch,” said Firestone, who has been with Intrepid for four years. “My motto has been, ‘There has never been a “you” with the same diagnosis. Somebody else may have the same diagnosis, but they’re not you.’”
As the person’s diagnosis progresses and they experience more side effects, palliative care interventions should increase. Only when curative treatment is no longer helpful will that individual be referred to hospice care.
“In hospice, we can’t fix it, but we can manage the symptoms of it and make sure you have the maximum quality of life,” Firestone said. “Palliative is the guide and helping them through. All hospice is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice.”
Firestone recently received a 2022 Frontline Honors Award from the Aging Media Network for her work as a palliative clinical coordinator.
“My peers and those around me felt that I embodied someone who obviously was a good frontline worker,” she said. “I’m just someone who is out in the field, facing patients and trying to uphold the philosophy of palliative care and hospice, and it means so much to me that some other people are seeing it. I was shocked – in disbelief.”
“A lot of my people have had so much control taken away from them already and they feel powerless,” she continued. “If I can help them bring some control back to their care, I feel like I’ve done a service.”
Firestone said as long as health care continues to evolve, so too will society’s embrace of palliative care.
“We are moving toward a more patient-centered, patient-driven experience,” she said. “It’s about making decisions with them, not for them and with them living with the consequences.”
This approach should also relieve some of the fear and uncertainty that comes with a life-limiting diagnosis.
“It’s important to me that everyone has their voice heard,” Firestone said. “The people I can touch, I want to be an advocate for them and have their voices heard.”
Do you or a loved one need help at home? Email firstname.lastname@example.org now to learn how we can alleviate stress and provide individuals with the highest quality of life.