Celebrating 10 Years of Palliative Care at Sentara Martha Jefferson

Perhaps no program at Sentara Martha Jefferson better exemplifies the hospital’s Caring Tradition than Palliative Care, a program initiated and sustained by the community and one that offers highly personalized services to our patients and their families.

Palliative Care’s primary goal is to improve the quality of life of patients with serious and/or chronic illness, focusing on relieving symptoms and easing both physical and emotional suffering.

As evidenced by the following two examples, many in our community have experienced the benefits of palliative care firsthand and have been motivated by their experiences to help ensure, through generous support, that Sentara Martha Jefferson patients and families have access to the same quality of compassionate care.

A Program Begins

In 2000, Kathy Parker’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His family physician referred him to an outpatient palliative care program near his home in Toronto, Canada, and he spent the last months of his life in a hospital that had two floors dedicated solely to palliative care.

“The staff in Toronto did everything they could to help my father, my sister, my stepmother and me. I’m passionate about palliative care because I saw it firsthand. It was such a profound and wonderful experience that I came back to Charlottesville and talked to [then-Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital President] Jim Haden and suggested that this program was a perfect fit for the Caring Tradition at Martha Jefferson,” says Parker, who served on the hospital’s Foundation Board of Directors for eight years.

A few years later, an opportunity to initiate a Palliative Care program presented itself when Lisa Illig, MD, joined the Sentara Martha Jefferson medical staff. Hired as a hospitalist, Dr. Illig was fellowship-trained in hospice and palliative care, so Haden created a task force to evaluate options. “Though everyone agreed palliative care was an excellent fit for the hospital, the program would be costly,” says Faye Satterly, BSN, RN, MFA, a member of the exploratory task force and now the administrative director of Palliative Care. “We quickly realized we would need continuing philanthropic support from our community to establish and sustain palliative care.”

Following its launch in 2006, the Palliative Care program was staffed by a single physician, assisted on a part-time basis by Chaplain Suzanne Hilton Smith, MCM. Since then, the team’s configuration has gone through many changes. Currently, thanks to the generous philanthropic support of our community, the program is staffed by a multidisciplinary group of caregivers, much like that envisioned by Dr. Illig and the task force. In 2014, Margaret “Peggy” Firer Bishop, ANP-BC, ACHPN, joined the team, bringing with her extensive palliative care experience. Bishop now leads the program, in collaboration with Matthew J. Mildonian, BSN, MSN, FNP; Suzanne Hilton Smith, MCM; and Tammy Carter James, RN, MDiv. Paul Tesoriere, MD, director of inpatient services, serves as the medical director for Palliative Care, and Faye Satterly, BSN, RN, MFA, as Administrative Director. Sandra Westmoreland, MSW, an experienced, bilingual social worker, will join the team in October. Early in 2016, the team opened an outpatient palliative care clinic, which at this time is primarily seeing oncology patients.

Inspired to Give

Like Parker, Janemarie King’s support for Palliative Care is based on personal experiences. In 2010, King’s mother had a massive stroke that left her with little ability to move, after which she received palliative care services in Pennsylvania for nearly three months.

“The nurses and doctors there were absolutely incredible,” says King, a member of the Foundation Board of Directors and co-chair of the 2016 Foundation Strategic Planning Committee. “They explained to her and to us what was going on. I could tell that she was very comforted by the care.”

This overwhelmingly positive experience with palliative care changed the priorities of King and her husband, Don. “Before that, we would give to Sentara Martha Jefferson through unrestricted donation, but now and for the long term, we’ll definitely be restricting our giving to the Palliative Care program,” she says. “It’s so important for people to have support, both medically and emotionally, and have access to community services—especially when you have an end-of-life situation or a fairly long-term illness.”

“My husband and I support Palliative Care because it brings together resources from all kinds of disciplines to help patients have the best possible outcomes,” Parker says of her and husband Troost’s financial support of Palliative Care. “I’m just so happy that the program seems to be in place for the long term.”

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