For the media

Aiming for compassionate support during COVID-19

By The Health News Team | June 11, 2020
The Advanced Illness Management team at Sharp HealthCare

The Advanced Illness Management team continues to support friends and family despite the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Advanced Illness Management (AIM) team at
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center has always been committed to providing exceptional end-of-life care, but even more so during the
coronavirus pandemic.

AIM team members manage patients with specialized symptoms related to a variety of serious and chronic illnesses. They communicate with patients and families, empower patients to have a voice in their care, and ensure that medical treatments align with a patient's values and personal wishes. The unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic meant that palliative care and support had to move beyond the bedside.

Making a heart-to-heart connection
Sharp HealthCare implemented new visitation policies designed to protect those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, in accordance with the San Diego County Health Department order. The AIM team navigated through uncharted territory to create a warm and safe environment that would bring peace to patients despite the limitations. The emotion and distress family members endure while having a loved one hospitalized, especially during these uncertain times of isolation and caution, has been challenging. Thankfully, the AIM team has worked tirelessly to bridge that gap.

"Caring for patients with COVID-19 and their families has been difficult for health care professionals everywhere," says Deena Drake, clinical nurse specialist. "We are all used to having face-to-face communication and family at the bedside to participate in developing plans and goals of care. During this crisis, our team has had to have very difficult discussions regarding end-of-life preferences almost entirely over the phone. Even when we have been able to limit in-person family meetings, we have had to social distance and wear masks, which creates a barrier between our team members, patients and their families. Making a heart-to-heart connection under these circumstances has been incredibly challenging."

Deena Drake, clinical nurse specialist in Advanced Illness Management at Sharp HealthCare

Deena Drake, clinical nurse specialist in Advanced Illness Management, documenting her invaluable conversations at the end of a long day.

The extraordinary strength, kindness and advocacy that palliative care and advanced care planning professionals provide patients and their families has been crucial as health care systems continue delivering emergency and urgent care to the community. They have remained committed to supporting patients exposed to COVID-19 while continuing their vital services to those with other chronic illnesses. Drake shares about a patient who was facing a medical crisis at the end of April.

"The patient was a 41-year-old woman with bile duct cancer, who sought alternative treatment at a different medical facility. She later experienced a sudden deterioration and was brought to Sharp Chula Vista by ambulance. Her only goal was to return home to Pennsylvania to be with her young son before she died, but her condition made it unsafe for her to travel.

Drake continues, "Tanya Covert, one of my colleagues in AIM, and I worked closely with
Dr. Heston Schuetz and
Dr. Marilyn Norton to get the patient's pain and symptoms under control and treat the issues that were treatable. We were finally able to get her on a medical flight on the fifth day of her hospital stay. She passed away two weeks after returning home, but she did so with her family and friends surrounding her."

AIM teams have kept the "care" in health care, as they are not only striving to save lives, but also to provide a peaceful passing. They have been essential in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about
hospice and palliative care at Sharp HealthCare.

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