Specialized Care

 Chapters Health System, Bartow Regional Medical Center Open Palliative Care Clinic


In partnership with Chapters Health System, Bartow Regional Medical Center has opened a palliative care clinic in Bartow.


Palliative care is specialized medical care focused on relieving the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The provision of palliative care services on an outpatient basis allows patients to stay in the comfort of their own homes.


The clinic is now open on Tuesdays, from 8 a.m. to noon. It is located in one of the medical office buildings at Bartow Regional Medical Center. A soft opening was held in November, and the official open house was on Feb. 18.


Bartow Regional Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Vaaler says the palliative care center offers a valuable service to the community. Vaaler also serves as chief medical officer for South Florida Baptist Hospital and BayCare’s St. Joseph’s North and South hospitals.


“Based on our experiences with palliative care at some of our other BayCare facilities, palliative care is a very valuable service for our patients in helping them navigate chronic medical issues,” he says. “These services often happen in the hospital setting, but do not end there.”


With palliative care, patients are provided with ongoing attention to their medical needs — and can avoid the feeling that their care is “over” when they are discharged from a hospital.


“An outpatient service is extremely valuable,” Vaaler says. “It offers continuation of the inpatient services or standalone outpatient services for those patients not currently hospitalized.”


Hospice care is end-of-life care, and one must have a terminal illness with life expectancy of less than six months, as a general rule.  


“Palliative care often is also end-of-life care, but can start at any time,”  Vaaler says. “It focuses on improving life, and providing comfort to people of all ages who have serious, chronic and life-threatening illnesses.”


Palliative care can also be provided while a patient continues to seek an illness cure. 


Some examples of patients the center can help would be patients with very severe  Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or cancer who make frequent trips to the hospital or have many severe symptoms.


“Palliative care is very helpful in formulating a plan to deal with many of the symptoms, and works on trying to reduce suffering while also improving quality of life, and reducing trips to the hospital,” Vaaler says.


The palliative care team usually works with the existing team of providers to collaborate on the most appropriate plan of care for each patient.


It is usually affordable for insured patients. “Medicare coverage is excellent — obviously, there are several different types of Medicare coverage these days, so coverage may be slightly different. But all plans cover palliative care as far as I know,” Vaaler says.


Dr . Andrea Miller is regional medical director for Chapters Health Palliative Care, She says since the doors opened, it has been clear the center is both needed and wanted in the area.


“Community response has been wonderful,” she says. “Our patients have been very receptive to our services. We are starting to get referrals from community doctors, as well as hospitals. We have seen dozens of patients so far. Right now, we have the capacity to see 12 patients per week, but as demand increases, we’ll be able to increase capacity.”


The care process begins with referrals. “Patients are referred from several sources, including their primary care physician, their specialist, from prior consultation with palliative care in the hospital and from other patients,” she says. Once a referral is made, our staff collects the necessary information and contacts the patient with information about our clinic, and, if appropriate, sets up an appointment to see a provider.”


The clinic is small, but its size provides a benefit of familiarity. “We currently staff the clinic with one physician and at least one, sometimes two nurse practitioners. We try to have the patient meet as many of our providers as possible, so that they know each other. 


“Since we are a small clinic with three exam rooms, it is easy for us to pull each other in for introductions. We work as a team, including non-clinical staff, nurses, social workers, nurse practitioners and physicians to provide coordinated care.


The clinic offers in-patient hospital consultations and out-patient clinic visits, and it hopes to expand to home visits in the future.


The enhancement of palliative care medical experts can dramatically ease the way for patients in navigating through their medical care journeys. “We add an extra layer of support for the patient and their healthcare providers to deal specifically with their symptoms, their function and their quality of life concerns,” she says.


And on a personal level, she adds that she loves the work.  “Palliative care is my passion,” she says. “The ability to really get to know my patients and work with them, their families, their communities, and the healthcare system to maximize their quality of life and function is very rewarding.


“As a family physician, I have always valued the relationships I make with my patients, and in palliative care, I am able to give my attention to the people who need it most.”


For more information, contact Bartow Palliative Care Center at 813-871-8200 or info@chaptershealth.org. You can also find more information on the website at baycare.org

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