JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, (October 15, 2021) – In long-term care for a chronic, or even possibly terminal condition, there are often teams of doctors, nurses, and other specialized technicians seeing to a patient’s medical health. But patients have more needs than just their physical health – especially when facing a long-term illness and associated treatment. This is where palliative care comes in.
“The Palliative Care Team’s goal is to focus on the patient, helping them feel as good as they can and be as functional as they can be. As an interdisciplinary team, we provide emotional, physical, and spiritual support,” said Dr. Alison Wiesenthal, Brooke Army Medical Center’s Department of Rehabilitation chair and the chief of the Palliative Care Service. “The Palliative Care Service is always on team patient-- whatever is best for them is what we advocate for.”
Palliative care a discipline that focuses on seeing the patient instead of just the disease. The team-based care concentrates on “the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis,” according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care’s site. “It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.”
BAMC provides the only fully integrated palliative care team in the Department of Defense. They have been serving patients as a fully integrated unit since 2017. The team consists of a chaplain, nurse, physician (Dr. Wiesenthal and Dr. Rosemary Chacko), pharmacist, and a social worker. Together, the team works to care for aspects of a patient’s health that may fall outside of the realm of traditional medical care. They work to take care of the whole patient, including helping with the patient’s support system.
“Palliative Medicine team members meet patients and their families at the most difficult time in their lives,” said Annette Ledezma, the team’s social worker. “Being there for our families requires poise, good listening skills, good problem-solving skills, compassion and empathy. Our families deserve this.”
According to Wiesenthal, doctors who work with the palliative care team appreciate how the interdisciplinary aspect of their collective care helps patients deal with difficult problems.
“The doctors have found that their patients are truly grateful for how the synchronized conversations different specialists have can add to their overall healthcare experience,” Wiesenthal said. “Patients have said this is something rarely seen in traditional medical care.”
The BAMC palliative team care works to take care of the whole patient, including helping with the patient’s support system. Wiesenthal and her team provide care at their various clinics throughout BAMC to ensure the patients and the members of their support team, whether they are friends or family, have the information and support they need. In addition, the palliative care team provides virtual appointments.
“Palliative care helps the patient navigate the medical system and determine their goals of care,” said Wiesenthal. “For some patients, the goal is to extend life no matter the sacrifice. For other patients, the goal is to focus on feeling as good as they can for as long as they can, optimizing time outside of the hospital. These decisions are often dynamic, and the Palliative Care Team helps patients navigate the journey of serious illness.”
Because of the whole-patient care it provides, Wiesenthal said every hospital should have a palliative care team. The care the team provides goes beyond simply treating the ailment. The team of subject matter experts can provide information and care to patients and their friends and family that they might need during a difficult time in their lives.
“We work together to help people through a lot of the unexpected questions and situations that can come with being sick,” she said. “BAMC cares about you and your story. We want you to have all the support you need.”