Setting the standard for whole person care

By: Ira Byock, M.D.

When we’re sick, we usually focus on our medical treatments. But what about our personal care? Are we getting the emotional and social support we need? Does our medical care reflect our values? 

There is a personal side to health care, but it often gets overlooked. Providence St. Joseph Health is leading a national transformation in health services through its Institute for Human Caring, a national advocate for “whole person care” - health care based on your medical, emotional and personal needs.

Whole person care means that:

  • Patients are full partners in decisions about all aspects of their care
  • Families receive help supporting loved ones who are seriously ill
  • Professional caregivers receive help coping with the strains of caregiving

Most Americans want to be at home as they approach the end of life, surrounded by people they know and love. Yet about 70 percent spend their last days in hospitals or nursing homes. This can deprive patients and their families of the comfort they deserve at a difficult and emotional time. Whole person care can change this.

Here's how Providence St. Joseph is leading the way in whole person care.

1. Advance care directives

All of us could face a serious injury or illness at any age and become unable to communicate what kind of medical treatments we want or who we want to make decisions for us. 

That’s why the Institute for Human Caring encourages people 18 and older to have an advance directive that spells out their wishes. We know this is a sensitive topic, so we provide resources across our system for consumers to prepare advance directives as easily and as comfortably as possible.

2. Specialty care for the seriously ill, and those near the end of life

Palliative care

Serious illness can shake life to the core, leaving people frightened and uncertain what to do. Across our health system, specialized palliative care teams are available to help people who are living with and being treated for a serious medical condition. Our specialists provide personalized care to ease pain and manage the symptoms and stress of illness. Teams work to find resources to lessen the practical problems, physical strain and emotional toll on families.

Our goal is to improve the quality of life for everyone touched by serious illness.

Hospice care

The best examples of whole person care are hospice teams of professionals who provide compassionate care for people nearing the end of life. 

Providence St. Joseph Health provides home hospice care for patients in the communities we serve. Our hospice doctors, nurses, chaplains, social workers and other specialists support patients and their families in living as fully as possible by providing expert pain and symptom management, as well as emotional, social and spiritual support through the very end of life.

Our hospice programs reach out to communities with classes, support groups, and special programs for veterans, children and family caregivers who are affected by illness, caregiving and grief.

3. Storytelling to comfort and inspire

The Institute for Human Caring has created a storytelling and listening project called Hear Me Now, in partnership with StoryCorps, America’s largest oral history project. Hear Me Now offers patients, family members and professional caregivers a platform to voice aspects of whole person care and celebrate our shared humanity.

Interested in contributing to Hear Me Now? Tell your story. Learn how by contacting Lindsay Flacks at Lindsay.Flacks@providence.org or 310-543-3497.

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