Rob Almaraz was so determined that his mother should remain in the family’s Albuquerque home despite her Alzheimer’s disease, that he left a high-powered job at a top Washington, D.C., restaurant to help his father care for her.
The demands of his mother’s round-the-clock care plus his father’s increasing infirmity proved a heavier burden than he imagined. But the palliative care program Presbyterian Healthcare Services offers in a home setting to seriously ill patients helped reduce that stress.
“It made my quality of life so much better. You can’t put a value on that,” Almaraz said.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It typically involves a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists who help care for a patient and provide support for their family. It differs from hospice because it can be offered to anyone with a serious illness at any stage of treatment. Hospice is a benefit offered to terminally ill patients who have just a few months to live, said Nancy Guinn, Medical Director Presbyterian Healthcare at Home.
“We can offer (palliative) care long before they would qualify for hospice,” Guinn said.
Presbyterian started its palliative care program in a hospital setting 11 years ago and expanded to home visits in 2012. Recently, The Center to Advance Palliative Care picked Presbyterian’s program to be one of nine “Palliative Care Leadership Centers” in the country that will provide mentoring and training for teams from other health care organizations.
The New York, N.Y.-based Center to Advance Palliative Care is a national member-based organization that promotes the growth and development of palliative care programs.
Almaraz began receiving palliative care services for his mother about 18 months ago when she had a fall. The Presbyterian palliative care team sent a portable X-ray machine to his Northeast Heights home and continued with visits from occupational and physical therapists and a social worker. The team is coordinated by nurse practitioner Abigail Gilbert-Savi.
“It was just like a smooth machine. You could tell how organized it was,” Almaraz said.
The palliative care program includes having a trained professional who can give advice on-call 24 hours a day. Almaraz was able to call and get advice on nutrition and medication management.
“It’s nice to have seasoned professionals making decisions on her behalf, not me,” Almaraz said.
Presbyterian currently provides palliative care in a home setting to about 200 patients. Up to 600 more receive the services at a clinic at Presbyterian’s Kaseman hospital in Albuquerque or the Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho. Presbyterian recently began offering the services at its hospital in Española and plans to offer them at its medical center under construction in Santa Fe.
Palliative care services are covered by Medicare and most insurance plans in the same way that a home visit or office visit would be covered, Guinn said.