September is National Pain Awareness Month and we join in celebrating the many great care teams bringing comfort to our community.
At Empath Health, our teams provide a holistic approach to achieve relief and better quality of life for our patients, whether they are living with a chronic, serious or advanced illness. During the course of or at the end of an illness, there’s a specialized type of care that can help improve wellness – integrative medicine.
Integrative medicine is an evidence-based model of care that blends conventional medicine with complementary practices, such as acupuncture and Reiki energy therapy. It focuses on treating and comforting the whole person – body, mind, spirit and emotions.
Our integrative medicine and palliative arts program at Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, continues to grow. Our expert integrative medicine clinicians, trained staff and trained palliative arts volunteers incorporate a variety of treatment and modalities for patients in the soothing spaces at our integrative medicine clinic and care centers or in patients’ homes or long-term care facilities. We aim to calm and decrease physical pain, emotional distress and other symptoms for an improved well-being.
Our integrative medicine care may include:
• Breath work
• Guided imagery
• Other treatments
Our palliative arts may include:
• Massage therapy
• Pet visits
Working together in our clinic is Barbara Dobron, DNP, FNP-BC, AP, a family nurse practitioner and a board-certified acupuncturist; Julie Martin, MT-BC, NMT-F, NICU-MT, a palliative arts clinician; and Reiki practitioner volunteers.
Longtime Work in Wellness
Dr. Dobron has a 20-year background in Chinese medicine and nursing, including her own private practice. She joined us this past April and loves the job fit.
“I knew about Suncoast Hospice and had applied before, and then I saw this position for a nurse practitioner/acupuncturist. I thought that was made for me. The two go together so well. I’m happy I’m here. I’m learning all the wonderful things about palliative arts. I think they’re important,” Dr. Dobron said.
In her role, she helps patients find balance through acupuncture in combination with the Reiki provided by volunteers. She explained, “We seem to do really well with pulmonary distress and spleen and stomach conditions, which are responsible for feelings of worry. There are a lot of emotional points we can address and we treat the imbalanced areas. We have wonderful volunteers. I feel like I’m in heaven because they reinforce the treatment and we further the energy in patients. I encourage patients to take Reiki at home for further reinforcement.”
Acupuncture can relieve multiple symptoms. “I’ve studied the effects of acupuncture with pain and quality of life. Our best result was easing anxiety. A couple of our patients have had very bad nausea that they couldn’t get under control, and after acupuncture their nausea was better. Some patients feel symptom relief for a few hours after treatment and one patient felt relief for a few days after treated. We recently had a patient who came for treatment right up until a week before he died. I just want to make them feel better,” she said.
Nutrition is another area that can improve wellness, she shared. “In my practice, we looked at patients’ health care, diets and lifestyles. A lot of my patients were in hospice and the goal always was toward wellness. In my position here, I do even more focus on wellness. I do counseling on food to keep patients’ health up as much as possible, no matter if they’re terminal. Everyone wants to live as well as they can, no matter what stage of illness.”
She sees how hospice care can benefit everyone in a family. “I think the community doesn’t always understand what hospice has to offer and doesn’t want to come into hospice because of fear. Integrative medicine and palliative arts empower the family. The family feels it as well because it gives them an opportunity to know they’ve done everything they can to help their loved one feel better,” she said.
Growth and Collaboration in Care
Palliative arts clinician Julie Martin is leading the operations and expansion of the program. She joined us in 2010 working on a care team as a board-certified music therapist. She began her new position last September and enjoys it tremendously.
“Some other hospices have integrative medicine but we’re the only one with a clinic dedicated to our patients. I’m helping build, support and advocate for our program. I provide education on the benefits of palliative arts and training to our volunteers and staff, as well as oversee the day-to-day management of the clinic. About 30 people are trained in music on our teams, all of our home health aides now take music or aromatherapy training and we’ve received a grant to do two additional aromatherapy certifications. It’s rewarding to support our staff and volunteers in having more meaningful experiences comforting patients,” said Martin, who has taken Reiki for her own professional development.
Caring for patients always takes a team approach, Martin explained. “Our trained volunteers work together with our teams to help move people away from suffering and toward well-being. We are complementary to nursing care to enhance the patient experience and give them as many choices possible for comfort and quality of life. We collaborate often, look at what concerns come up and meet the patients’ needs.”
Focus on Comfort and Living
The clinic’s care has brought relief for many patients, Martin reported. “We’ve seen very good results with treatment – including data that shows reductions in pain, anxiety, nausea and shortness of breath. It goes beyond just treating physical pain and discomfort. It helps bring comfort with emotional and spiritual distress, decision making and anxiety. The acupuncture in tandem with Reiki is a synergistic kind of energy that eases pain. Some of our treatment and modalities also reduce agitation and help people with dementia, making it easier and safer for our teams to interact with that population.”
Life can improve for the whole family with hospice care, she said. “In the clinic, sometimes we see folks who have about 6 months or less prognosis, but we can still help them keep their strength up. We seek quality of life with all of our patients, helping them decrease their pain and symptoms. Everybody gets more choice. We help our patients and families cope with the dying process and give them a sense of competency to make the decisions that they want. We’re changing the perception about dying. Hospice is about living the best that you can.”
Want to help comfort patients and families? Become a palliative arts volunteer. We’re in particular need of volunteers for massage therapy (must be licensed) and pet visits (must be certified). Learn more about our opportunities at an upcoming orientation.