Nov / Dec 2019 / Jan 2020 Newsletter

Skilled Communication with Seriously Ill Patients is Both Crucial and Learnable, Experts say

Clinicians who receive training report increased confidence in their care delivery

High-quality communication is a critical factor in the care of seriously ill patients, as it enables patients and their families to understand the illness and participate in care planning decisions aligned with their goals and values. Yet, because too few clinicians have been exposed to evidence-based training, serious illness conversations can often be suboptimal, according to a special article published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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Aug / Sept / Oct 2019 Newsletter

Minimal Knowledge of Palliative Care Among U.S. Adults Highlights Need to Raise Public Awareness

In a national survey of Americans aged 18 years or older, nearly three-quarters reported they had never heard of palliative care, illustrating a serious need to raise awareness of and provide accurate information about the goals and benefits of palliative care to the general public, according to a report published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

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V10-2: Caring for Someone with Dementia

If you are caring for someone with dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 16 millions Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Jigsaw hands

As a caregiver to someone with dementia, the goal is to keep the person safe, calm, and active for as long as possible. In some cases, this may help to slow symptoms such as mood swings, confusion, and trouble with memory or speech.

Palliative Care Could Cut Health Care Costs by $103 Billion

Palliative care could reduce societal health care costs by $103 billion within the next 20 years, the nonprofit economic research group Florida TaxWatch said in a report. The group recommended that policymakers take action to expand palliative care utilization in the state.

Palliative care in general can reduce health care costs by more than $4,000 per patient, according to a July 2017 study in Health Affairs. It can also reduce the frequency of 911 calls, emergency department visits, and unnecessary hospitalizations.

Many hospice providers offer palliative care in addition to their other services. Payors often treat it as a precursor to hospice, allowing patients to receive similar services until they become eligible for the hospice benefit.

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May / Jun / Jul 2019 Newsletter

Patients Less Likely to Receive Palliative Care at Minority-Serving Hospitals, Regardless of Race/Ethnicity

Site of care, not race or ethnicity, may be a keydeterminant of whether or not seriously ill patients receive palliative care, a new study has found. Advanced cancer patients treated at hospitals that primarily serve minotitieswere 33% less likely than those at other facilities to be provided any palliative care, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or insurance carrier.

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Focus on Katherine Coutrakon

By Hilary Decent

Katherine Coutrakon finds inspiration in the darkest of places. You might even say death becomes her.

Katherine Coutrakon

As a licensed clinical social worker with almost 40 years’ experience, she helps the terminally ill in their weeks and also grieving families. The experiences have taught her a lot, she says.

“It’s inspiring to see people dealing with the purity of their life. They know they are going and they just want to be peaceful. That’s when death is at its best,” she said from her office with Affiliates in Counseling in downtown Naperville. “It teaches you to show up for life, to stay in the moment.”

Coutrakon began specializing in hospice care after her mother passed away 17 years ago. For the past three years, she’s been working with Angels Grace Hospice in Bolingbrook. Despite her years of counseling others, the intensity of pain she felt after her mother died took her breath away.

“I knew it would hurt, but I didn’t expect it to feel so bad,” she said.

Coutrakon credits her mother with instilling in her a lifelong desire to help others. By doing so, she believes she’s fulfilling her legacy, something she recommends to grieving families.

“We were very close,” she said. “She died in my home just a few days after coming to live with me.”

Her mother grew up in Crete during World War II. After an arranged marriage to an American, she came to Chicago, where she had four children before her husband died.

“She grew up with death all around her. She knew something about pain,” Coutrakon said. “She said, ‘God will always bring somebody to help you, but you never know who it’s going to be. It may not be who you think it’s going to be.’”

Although the family had little money, Coutrakon’s mother always helped her neighbors and delighted in cooking for them all.

“She was like the first social worker,” Coutrakon said. “Death was all around her in Crete, then it followed her here, but she raised us all to be good citizens.”

All her siblings are in caring professions. Coutrakon does not shy away from other people’s pain.

“People are inspiring. They deal with unimaginable pain and trauma with grace,” she said.

While working in California, Coutrakon remembers one particularly tragic case. After a young mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, she met with both her and her family regularly.

“By the time I met her, she was referred to hospice and no more treatment was available,” Coutrakon said, adding that typically patients begin by hoping for a cure, but if they discover their days are limited, they hope for a peaceful death.

The patient had a mother, ex-husband and three children between the ages of 11 and 16. Coutrakon encouraged her to write letters to them, making her intentions clear about how she would like them to continue their lives without her.

“When you work in hospice care, you have a team around you, which helps you stay neutral,” she said. “Your job is to help others, so you have to be client-centered. They have needs which have to be met so their life can move in the direction it needs to go. This involves a lot of legacy work with honest, difficult conversations with family members. This particular family had deep faith, so the parents used the time to teach spiritual beliefs to their children.”

Read more on Chicago Tribune »

V10-1: Tackling Chronic Pain Through Symptom Management

Chronic pain is emerging as a major health concern. It has negative impacts on patients, their families, and society as a whole. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that chronic pain leads to $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost productivity, and disability programs.

Doctor hand on shoulder

In addition, a growing number of deaths are caused by pain medicine overdose.