A grant from the South Dakota Comprehensive Cancer Control Program will allow faculty from the University South Dakota/Sanford School of Medicine, the South Dakota State University College of Nursing and the University of Sioux Falls to offer an interdisciplinary palliative care educational workshop to health care professionals practicing in a rural or frontier setting.
A palliative care team consists of doctors, nurses, social workers and other professionals who guide patients and their families through any stage of a serious, life-threatening illness including choosing curative treatments.
The $6,513 grant was awarded to LifeCircle, a statewide coalition of institutions, organizations and people committed to improving palliative and end-of-life care in South Dakota.
The daylong seminar will take place in Winner this September, according to Dr. LuAnn Eidsness, chair of internal medicine at USD/Sanford School of Medicine and a member of the LifeCircle advisory board. The location was chosen because it is close to two reservations—Pine Ridge and Rosebud---which also have need of this expertise.
Katie Bloom, assistant professor in social work at University of Sioux Falls; Mary Minton, associate professor at the SDSU College of Nursing West River Site in Rapid City; and Mary Isaacson, assistant professor for SDSU College of Nursing, Sioux Falls campus, are developing the workshop with Eidsness.
Helping patients and their families
"All health care providers care for people at end of life," Eidsness said, "but we can do a better job of helping people die well and helping families deal with their loved one's dying and death." Trained palliative care professionals can help families put advance directives and care plans in place that can improve the quality of the patient's remaining life.
Specifically, Eidsness sees the need for better pain and symptom management, which result from discussions about the diagnosis, expectations and care goals earlier in the course of the illness.
Though some palliative training is available to medical and nursing students, this grant will help educators reach practicing professionals who work with these patients every day, according to Eidsness.
"If we can educate some, they will take that knowledge back to their workplaces and pass it on," she said. Participants will receive continuing education credit for the workshop.
Educating health care professionals
In fall 2012, Minton and a team of researchers gathered information on the palliative and end-of-life services offered at 455 of the 688 health care facilities in South Dakota. These included clinics, assisted living centers, specialty clinics, hospice and home-health providers, hospitals and nursing homes.
The researchers found that the staff at 80 percent of the facilities surveyed had no palliative care training and those at 73 percent had no training in end-of-life care. The project was funded by the South Dakota Department of Health Comprehensive Cancer Control Program.
This workshop will help "fulfill the identified educational needs of these health care professionals," Minton said.
Lexi Haux, program coordinator for the S.D. Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, explained that though the survey highlighted the need for palliative care training, the LifeCircle project also fulfills two key health priorities. It speaks to the health needs of cancer survivors who are now living longer and helps address health disparities among Native Americans through delivery of palliative and end-of-life care services.
"We felt it was a strong fit with our program," Haux said.