Parklandís Palliative Care Program Aims to Empower Those with Serious Disease

Dallas, TX — Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness, and is provided by a specialy trained team of caregivers to work in conjunction with patients' other doctors to offer an additional layer of support. Started in 1999, the Palliative Care program at Parkland Memorial Hospital was one of the first in the state of Texas, and continues to be one of the largest, both in Texas and in the nation.

Dr. Elizabeth Paulk, MD, Medical Director of Palliative Care at Parkland and Program Director of the Palliative Care Fellowship Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, believes that while learning that a loved one has a serious illness can be terrifying, referral to palliative care services should not be.

“Even health professionals can feel overwhelmed when providing care for a family member,” said Adelfa Lorilla, MD, of Seagoville, TX, who is now full-time caregiver for her husband Ricardo, who is gravely ill with COPD. “The Palliative Care staff at Parkland has given us so much help and comfort over the past two years,” said Dr. Lorilla. “They make sure we have everything we need and are like family to us.”

Palliative care and hospice services are often confused in the public’s mind though their programs are not the same. The goal of their palliative care services according to Parkland is to improve quality of life for both patients and families.

“People have to remove the idea that palliative care will be the end of everything for them,” said Dr. Lorilla. “No, it is here to help you live longer and better. We are very thankful for them.”

“One of the most important things we do is give patients more control over their care by helping them understand their treatment choices,” said Dr. Paulk “We don’t just provide pain management. We meet the patient where they are, psychologically as well as physically, and work with their medical specialists like oncologists or cardiologists, to help the patient live as well as possible and to help them make good choices about their care.”

In fiscal year 2016, Parkland’s program at had 3,324 patient encounters in outpatient and inpatient units at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The Palliative Care Clinic operates five half-days weekly and inpatient consult services are available by phone 24/7.

Working in one of the nation’s largest safety net hospitals, Dr. Paulk and her team assist patients ranging from age 18 to over 100 and of many ethnicities.

Approximately one-third of patients are Hispanic, one-third are African-American and the remainder are of Caucasian, Asian or other backgrounds. Most have been diagnosed with cancer, heart failure, COPD, renal or liver disease. The team arranges for hospice care when needed, and stays in touch with patients and family members during final stages of illness. Parkland also offers a bereavement program and grief support groups in English and Spanish for family members.

“One of the things I am most proud of is that we provide very culturally sensitive care,” Dr. Paulk said. She and most members of the team speak Spanish. Online interpreters are also available as needed for the many languages encountered among Parkland patients.

Regardless of the language spoken, the message from Dr. Paulk and the Palliative Care team is the same. “This is about life – how you want the rest of your life to be and how we can help you get that.”

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