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“Don’t worry – help is on the way.” This simple sentence must have sounded like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning person. Indeed, Dr. Frank Santamaria, administering to the needs of a patient suffering from severe difficulties with breathing, was able to provide the patient his first night’s rest in months. The next morning, not only was the patient feeling better, his wife was ecstatic with relief: “You don’t know what you’ve done! I can’t tell you the difference you made for him.” No doubt she had her first night of rest in a long time, too.
Dr. Santamaria came to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida on a mission: he wants to make palliative care services available to more patients in Florida than he was able to do as a medical director at a local hospice organization. Palliative care, in its simplest form, is treatment which may alleviate pain and symptoms of a serious illness and works to improve a patient’s quality of life. Symptoms may include severe pain; constant nausea or vomiting; inability to breathe without tremendous effort; anxiety; depression or others. People who want to receive palliative care do not have to be end-stage in their illness, nor do they have to forgo additional curative care – two requirements for admission to a hospice program. Rather, palliative care can be given along with therapies such as chemotherapy as a way to manage debilitating symptoms. It helps a person live better with his condition, and gives the family more quality time with their loved one.
Dr. Santamaria explained it this way: our current health care system does a good job addressing the medical needs of people suffering from acute or chronic diseases (think a urinary tract infection or diabetes). It also has evolved in serving the needs of those towards end-of-life (think hospice programs). What is lacking in the continuum of care are services for patients in the middle: those whose quality of life is poor, and getting worse as their condition worsens, yet are not at a point where hospice is appropriate. Palliative care is meant to fill that gap.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida is now piloting HopeBlue, a comprehensive palliative care program for members offered through Chapters Health Palliative Care. HopeBlue is available first in Hillsborough County. It will extend into Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties over successive months. Eventually, the intent is to make it available to our members statewide. BCBSF nurse case managers assisting members in those counties will help identify patients who are eligible to participate and who might benefit from the program. Members can then voluntarily elect to join the pilot – at no additional cost to them.
Why participate? Dr. Santamaria gives another compelling example: he was able to assist a man living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who found it daunting even to talk on the phone or walk to his mailbox because of his severe shortness of breath. “His quality of life was very poor. [After palliative treatment,] the man can now walk to the mailbox, and can speak more than just a few words at a time on the phone. He’s no longer quite as impaired [by his symptoms.] The man says his quality of life is three times what it was.”
Want to know more about HopeBlue? Call our nurse case managers at 1-800-955-5692, option 4. November is also National Hospice and Palliative Care Month
. Read more about how palliative care can make a difference when it’s needed the most.
We’d like to know what you think. If you have questions about palliative care in general, or the HopeBlue program, write them here and we’ll be sure to respond back with information from our medical team.