Doctor

Anne was in her 60s, lived alone, and her life became defined by repeated hospital trips and a fear of being able to manage at home by herself. Years of tobacco use had left her with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — better known as COPD — and even basic activities such as cooking a meal or getting dressed in the morning could leave her frighteningly short of breath.

Thankfully, the new Lung Care Program at Pallitus Health Partners, the rebranded palliative care service line of Hosparus Health, was able to intervene. Pallitus’ expert medical team were able to help Anne find medications that both managed her breathing difficulties and gave her something to turn to in those moments where she would have otherwise called 911. With her symptoms better controlled, she has now gone three months without returning to the hospital and stands as a testament to the power of palliative care.

“Palliative care improved Anne’s quality of life, because she now manages those daily activities better than before,” says Dr. Bethany Snider, chief medical officer at Pallitus Health Partners. “And we started building a plan for her around what life will look like when she needs more support. When we had those future resources and plans in place, that alleviated a lot of her fears. Anne has now been in our program for six months and is doing great. Imagine how much better your life is when you stay out of the hospital and can spend time doing the things you love, as opposed to doing the things needed to keep you alive.”

The Lung Care Program is the result of Pallitus taking a more disease-specific approach to managing patients with serious illnesses, following the success of that Hosparus had with its Heart Connection Program established in 2018 to combat cardiac disease. Given the rates of tobacco use and related pulmonary conditions in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, Pallitus determined that lung disease should be its next target for a specialized form of care.

A daily struggle for breath

When people suffer from advanced lung conditions such as COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension or cystic fibrosis, daily life can become a battle for breath. Fear, fatigue, and anxiety are constant, and only become magnified as the disease progresses.

“If you struggle to breathe, that's so much of what you do,” says Snider. “Your ability to get out of the home and do things that add to your quality of life, or even just activities of daily living — cooking your own meals, getting dressed, taking baths or showers — all of that is going to be impacted when you have a chronic lung disease that is serious or advanced in its stage. It really inspired us to care for those individuals in a way that helps them minimize their trouble breathing, minimize fatigue, maximize their quality of life, enhance the ability to breathe and enjoy life.”

While many symptoms can be alleviated with the right medication, advanced lung disease cannot be cured. Left unmanaged, it can leave suffers gasping for breath, terrified of being unable to breathe, and rushing to the hospital emergency room five or six times a month. Pallitus Health Partner’s Lung Care Program provides advanced illness care to thousands throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana since 1978, aims to break that cycle.

“We wrap these patients in an interdisciplinary approach, which includes physicians who are board-certified in palliative medicine, nurse practitioners, and social workers to really address the social determinants of health needs for this population,” Snider says. “Our job is to focus on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of care while their pulmonologist focuses on the disease. We walk hand-in-hand with that specialist to help minimize the burden of that condition by managing symptoms and ensuring things like transportation and access to food and medication is as easy for them as possible.”

Changing the trajectory

It’s a needed approach, given that more than 720,000 adults in Kentucky and 950,000 in Indiana suffer from chronic lung diseases, according to the American Lung Association. To be eligible for the program, a patient needs only to suffer from an advanced lung disease that limits their functional ability. Referrals can be made by anyone from physicians to family members, and care is covered by insurance. Pallitus works in tandem with the patent’s pulmonologist, traveling to wherever the patient calls home to help them manage medications and the effects of their disease.

“So often, these patients find themselves with worsening breathing challenges that lead them to call 911 or many times end up in the hospital. What we have seen as we’ve rolled out our Lung Care Program is that we can impact that trajectory for them,” Snider says. “With the medications and crisis planning that we've put in a patient’s home, we're able to change that journey for them and keep them out of the hospital. That not only impacts their quality of life but can help slow down the progression of the disease because they're not in crisis as often.”

The Lung Care Program is yet another example of how palliative care works with those facing any life-limiting disease, no matter their age or prognosis. “Palliative care is expert in-home care, and it's what we've done for decades,” Snider says. “We provide them 24/7 access to physicians and nurse practitioners who are ready to intervene and initiate medications with the goal of keeping them out of the hospital. Breaking that cycle of going back to the hospital or calling 911 every time, that’s a huge deal.”

Anyone can make a referral to Pallitus Health Partners and our Lung Program. Interested in learning more for yourself or a loved one? Call (502) 814-5408 to schedule a consultation or complete a referral form online by visiting PallitusHealth.org.