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August 08, 2012

Collaborative, Novel Program Helps Address Disparities in Palliative Care

(Chicago) – The Coleman Foundation awarded a grant of more than $542,000 to support a program aimed at making palliative care more accessible to patients facing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The grant will be administered by Rush and will support the Chicagoland Palliative Medicine Physician Collective to develop the “Primary Palliative Care Education Program to Improve Access to Palliative Care for Patients with Cancer.”

This effort, which will unite hospices and major academic medical centers in the Chicago area, is expected to begin in the fall of 2012, and continue for a three-year period.

“This palliative care program aims to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. It’s designed to make palliative care more accessible in the Chicagoland area and will take advantage of the strengths of existing models of care to have a greater impact than any one institution could achieve alone,” said Dr. Sean O’Mahony, director, section of palliative medicine at Rush University Medical Center. “We plan to expand and enhance existing palliative care services at community hospitals and large academic medical centers.”

Palliative care is medical care or treatment that focuses on reducing pain, stress and symptoms in people with severe and long-term illnesses. Palliative care can also help with the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the person who's being treated and his or her family. Palliative care doesn't replace primary medical treatment. Instead, palliative care can be combined with all other medical treatment to improve health outcomes.

Project directors will meet with administrators and clinicians at 35 local acute care hospitals to assess palliative care patient needs and to offer training to improve the quality of existing palliative care services. The program is the first one that brings together existing physician-based palliative care knowledge, experience and resources to focus this expertise on areas throughout Chicagoland currently underserved in terms of palliative care.

The three-year program will be under the direction of O’Mahony at Rush, and Dr. Stacie Levine, director, Geriatrics and Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Chicago. They will lead the clinical and educational training effort to equip the local community hospital physicians and advance practice nurses with palliative care best practices to drive quality improvement. Rush will collaborate with local academic palliative medicine programs and hospices to deliver a comprehensive education programs that will include online, face-to-face, and direct experiential learning.

The National Cancer Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine encourages the identification of barriers that limit palliative care. “We are working on breaking down these barriers to care by creating this program,” O’Mahony said.

The Chicagoland Palliative Medicine Physician Collective program representatives will include:

• Non-profit hospices: Rainbow Hospice & Palliative Care, Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care, Midwest Palliative & Hospice Care Center

• Major academic medical centers: Rush University Medical Center, University of Chicago Medical Center, Northwestern University

• Established hospital palliative care programs: Northshore University Health System, Central DuPage Hospital

Members of the Collective bring to the table a wealth of clinical, research, and educational experience in end of-life care; many have practiced hospice and palliative care for over 20 years.

A 2010 study that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that cancer patients who received palliative care experienced less depression and lived almost three months longer than those receiving standard care. Only 20 percent of the 120 cancer center hospitals in the U.S. reported having beds dedicated for palliative care according to a 2010 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association regarding the availability of palliative care.Only about half of Chicago area hospitals were registered as having palliative care programs according to the National Palliative Care Registry (


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