After starting out as an all-volunteer hospice organization 39 years ago, Midland Care has been recognized with a prestigious national award for innovation in the field of palliative and end-of-life care.
“We have learned through the provision of hospice that suffering is more than just physical pain,” said Karren Weichert, CEO of Midland Care since 1990, about the Cirle of Life “Citation of Honor” award given to the Topeka-based hospice provider by the American Hospital Association and several other national health care organizations. “We’ve developed an organization that is really about taking care of people.”
Weichert said the award is for programs that are evolving and constantly ahead of the curve in hospice and palliative care. She said with an estimated 5,000 hospice programs in the U.S., Weichert said Midland Care was the first hospice program in the country to introduce a “Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,” or PACE.
“That has been different,” she said. “We’ve been doing that for a decade now.”
The “differentiator” between Midland Care and this year’s applicants for the award, Weichert said, is that the organization has proven to be at the forefront of providing services for the physical, emotional, spiritual and social components that go into taking care of patients who are living with a serious illness and those who are nearing the end of their lives and their family members.
“Over the past 40 years serving both an urban and rural population, Midland Care has advanced palliative care not only as a philosophy throughout the broad continuum of community-based services it provides but as a specialty program for those challenged with suffering and pain,” according to the AHA. “Midland Care has developed partnerships with both local hospitals, including inpatient and outpatient consult services, as well as a clinic and community palliative care program. The innovation shown by the board and staff of Midland Care has set them apart as a leader in care for the dying and the frail.”
Team approach to palliative care
Palliative care, the way in which symptoms are managed, is specialized “comfort care” that is provided to people with a serious or complicated illness, somewhat related but wholly separate from the care that is provided through hospice, which is geared more toward end-of-life care.
Greg Nelson, Midland Care’s palliative care physician, said even if a person isn’t facing end-of-life issues, he or she can benefit from palliative care that takes a holistic approach and can include the services of a social worker or a chaplain for the patient and the patient’s family members.
“We try to sit down and take the time with patients and families to make sure they understand their medical illness,” he said, “that we understand what the goals are that they have for themselves. We try to help them formulate a plan for their care that fits them as a person.”
Nelson said taking a team approach to a person’s care is paramount to them managing their illness as effectively as possible.
“We try to connect our patients when we recognize needs with those on our team who can really help them in a practical way,” he said.
Dorothy Kurtz, Midland’s palliative care nurse, said patients are often referred to the services by their primary care physician or a specialist.
“We work hard to help patients actually tolerate things like cancer treatment,” she said. “It’s very difficult for patients and families. Being a cancer patient is often a full-time job for many of them. Our job really is to help them feel as good as they can so that they can tolerate their treatments.”
Kurtz said patients in palliative care not only can suffer physically but their emotional and spiritual health is impacted, especially if they can’t provide financially for their families.
“So many people become disabled,” she said. “That can become particularly difficult if you have a younger person that has a family to provide for. So linking people up with resources, services, counseling is a very important thing that we do. Those who don’t have health care coverage, we try to think of ways that we can help them to get the kind of support that they need in order to get some services going.”
Nelson said he was “blown over” when he found out Midland Care was getting the Citation of Honor award, given that the recognition is reserved for some of the “best innovators in the industry.”
“I was a little in shock,” he said. “The great thinkers and teachers in palliative care are who we were being considered with.”
Even getting considered for the Circle of Life Citation of Honor award is an extensive process, Weichert said, similar to applying for a grant. She said Midland Care has applied for the award two to three other times, but this is the first year the nonprofit has received it for being a “needs-responsive organization.”
Once a committee made up of representatives from each of the organizations that give the Circle of Life award chose Midland Care to be part of the initial round of potential winners, Weichert said a site committee visited the hospice facility this past fall and interviewed the staff involved in the programs that were highlighted in the application. That committee then wrote up their recommendations that were forwarded to another committee in February with the selection of Midland Care made in late April, early May, she said.
In addition to Midland Care, the other two Citation of Honor awardees this year are LifeCourse/Allina Health, of Minneapolis, Minn., and University of Wisconsin Health Palliative Care Program, of Madison, Wis.
In addition to using the award in their promotional materials and that it is recognized by the American Hospital Association, Weichert said the Citation of Honor award is expected to bring Midland Care a “new level of recognition” from hospice and palliative care providers from across the United States. She also said the Midland Care 300-member staff need to understand that the Citation of Honor award speaks to the work they do every day.
“They’re making a difference every single day in every single life they touch,” she said. “That’s a big deal.”
Weichert said regardless of how the health care debate in Washington, D.C., shakes out, Midland Care will have to adapt to any changes in the health care landscape because the estimated 500 patients and their families the organization serves annually will still need the organization’s services.
“In this day and age of health care chaos,” she said, “we’re focusing on helping people stay in their home, we’re focusing on quality of life, we’re focused on listening to the patient and family needs.”
“No matter what happens to the regulations,” Weichert continued, “the folks we’re committed to take care of are still going to be out there and we’re going to have to figure it out and we’re going to have to adapt our organization to provide the care that’s needed under whatever regulatory or financial stipulations are out there.We’re just going to have to learn how to do it because we’re a very committed organization to taking care of people.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.