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Palliative Care Article

Mount Evans’ Palliative Care program adds a new layer of support

by Stephen Knapp, from the June 2014 issue of Colorado Serenity

Kathy and JaniceDuring 15 years with Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice, longtime Clear Creek County resident Kathy Butcher, RN, helped ease countless hearts and bodies in pain. As a freshly certified nurse practitioner (NP) in Mount Evans’ new Palliative Care program, she plans to help a whole lot more.

“A big part of my commitment to the Nursing Practitioner program was that I wanted to do it for our mountain community, not someplace down the hill,” Butcher says. “Palliative care is still a fairly new medical specialty, but it’s gaining momentum. The purpose of our Palliative Care program is to improve quality of life, decrease hospitalization, and improve the continuity of care.”

A tall order, but one that Butcher has been well prepared to fill. Among the many advanced skills she brings to Evergreen from the University Colorado at Denver’s rigorous nurse practitioner program are expertise in physical assessment and pharmacology.

“I diagnose problems, recommend treatment, communicate with the patient’s primary care physician, and prescribe the appropriate medication for symptom management,” Butcher explains. “I’m an extension of the physician in the patient’s home.”

She’ll also act as liaison, making sure all parts of the patient’s care network are tuned in and working in concert.

“I help maintain the continuity of communication between all the specialties.”

To understand the fundamental purpose of the Palliative Care program, one must understand the fundamental purpose of palliative care.

“The goal of palliative care is to relieve suffering and provide the best possible quality of life for patients and their families,” explains Mount Evans’ executive director, Kathy Engel. “Emphasis is on the control of pain and other symptoms, as well as the psycho-social, emotional and spiritual issues.”

It also helps to understand what palliative care is not.

“There are some misconceptions out there,” says Butcher. “All hospice is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice. You don’t have to be dying to need palliative care. We could be managing symptoms, or the side effects of treatment. In both cases, the point is to improve the patient’s quality of life.”

“The positive difference is that we now have an avenue, through this program, for patients to receive symptom relief while continuing to pursue curative treatment,” Engel says. “This is not allowed under most hospice payment plans.”

Since launching the Palliative Care program on Feb. 1 of this year, Butcher and her small team of social workers, counselors, clergy and volunteers have already helped about 20 patients over the rough spots, and word of their good work is starting to get around.

“We’ve been receiving referrals from hospitals, doctors, and internally from Mount Evans nurses and social workers,” says Butcher. “There are so many people who just need an extra layer of support.”

And now they’re getting it, thanks to Mount Evans’ Palliative Care program, and Kathy Butcher, NP.

“Kathy is our first Mount Evans nurse practitioner, and she worked hard to achieve this advanced degree,” Engel says. “I’m so proud of her accomplishment,”

To learn more, call Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice at 303-674-6400, or visit www.MountEvans.org.