UCSF honored as a national leader in palliative care

By Kristen Bole

The UCSF Palliative Care Program has been named by the American Hospital Association as one of the top three programs nationwide for its innovative efforts to provide end-of-life care. The program receives the AHA annual Circle of Life Award in a San Diego ceremony on July 23.

UCSF is the only program in the West to receive the award, which is accompanied by $10,000 for each of the top programs.

The UCSF Palliative Care Program is being recognized for its commitment to both individualized patient care and to training the next generation of health care providers in caring for patients with advanced illness. In the award, the AHA specifically cited the collaborative nature of the UCSF program in providing individualized care for each patient, as well as its extensive use of hospitalists, who are the physicians who oversee and coordinate each patient’s full spectrum of care.

The award also cites the “enormous impact” of the UCSF program on educating practicing physicians as well as medical, nursing and pharmacy students and residents. That occurs both through research and mentoring within its own walls and in training other hospitals to create similar interdisciplinary programs.

Established in 1999, the UCSF palliative care service focuses on bringing physical, emotional, and spiritual solace to patients facing life-threatening illness. Its services include a consultation program for these patients, their families and their physicians, as well as special patient rooms that feature music, views and enough room for family and friends to gather.

“We are a service of hope,” said Eva Chittenden, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UCSF and acting director of the Palliative Care Service at the UCSF Medical Center. “Some may wonder how we can speak of hope in reference to people who are very, very sick. But there is hope. There’s hope for dignity and comfort during one’s last days.”

More than half of all Americans now end their lives in hospital settings, Chittenden said. As a result, she added, the need has never been greater for programs to offer the comforts of home and relief from pain and suffering.

“The Circle of Life Award celebrates programs across the nation that have made great strides in palliative and end-of-life care,” said AHA President & CEO Rich Umbdenstock.  “These programs share overriding themes of compassion and dedication and find new ways to expand the reach of palliative and hospice services and to help mesh traditional medical care with good end-of-life care. They provide excellent models any community can adapt.”

Two other programs, both on the East Coast, also are receiving the Circle of Life Award. They are Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, Fla., and Woodwell: A Program of Presbyterian SeniorCare and Family Hospice and Palliative Care in Oakmont, Pa.

The George Mark Children’s House in San Leandro, Calif., also is receiving an AHA Citation of Honor for its pediatric palliative care program, which serves as a resource for families with seriously ill children and provides transitional, respite and end-of-life care to children who need skilled nursing. It is among only five programs honored at that level, and is the only program on the West Coast to receive it.

This is the eighth year for the Circle of Life Award. The award is supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is sponsored by the American Hospital Association in conjunction with the American Medical Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

The AHA said it received about 40 nominations this year, which were reviewed by a committee of leaders in medicine, nursing, social work and health administration.  The committee looked for programs that respect patient goals and preferences, provide comprehensive care, acknowledge and address the family or caregivers’ concerns and needs and build systems and mechanisms of support that will ensure that the programs continue, the AHA said. 
The AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the improvement of health in their communities.  The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which include almost 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks and other providers of care.  Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends.

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

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