New state plan aims to increase awareness of, access to palliative care

Educating people on what palliative care is is one of four focus areas identified in the state of Kansas five-year plan for palliative care.
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 10:27 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A new plan hopes to expand palliative care in Kansas.

Unlike hospice care, which focuses on the end of life, palliative care aims to help people live their best lives while living with a serious illness.

Stormont Vail’s Dr. Brandy Ficek was part of a group that wrote the state’s recently released five-year plan for palliative care. She earned her palliative care certification the first year it was offered - in 2008.

“It’s a really young medical specialty,” Dr. Ficek said. “It’s an approach that says we want to take comprehensive care of our patients who are living with serious illness and put the focus back on their quality of life and their daily function.”

Read the state’s 5-year palliative care plan

Educating people on what palliative care is is one of four focus areas identified in the state’s plan. It found, two years ago, only three percent of people receiving medical care were getting palliative care when up to 30 percent could be eligible. These could be people with cancer or dementia, or a child with a genetic condition.

“It’s anyone who has an illness that impacts their day to day function and their quality of life, or puts excessive strain on their caregiver - because we know illnesses don’t just happen to our patients, they happen to a whole family system,” Dr. Ficek said.

The plan also discusses the need to expand broadband, so people in rural areas can more easily access palliative care services. Dr. Ficek said the committee began its work just as the pandemic was beginning, which taught them the value of telemedicine.

“In telehealth, I can sit with them, I can talk with them, I can see how things are functioning in their home,” she said.

Educating the current and future workforce about palliative care is another focus of the state’s plan. That includes providing more training and support for unpaid caregivers, including friends and family members.

“They’re really the ones who are responsible for managing medications; for seeing those warning signs when something is not going right; for being able to safely assist someone in their day to day activities,” Dr. Ficek said. “If those things aren’t done properly, then the downstream affect is that now those conditions aren’t as well controlled. We are having to have more acute, in-hospital care, where we can prevent some of these things if people get the training and the support that they need.”

The plan’s final focus area is ensuring palliative care is part of emergency preparedness, and encourage people to complete advance directives, to make their wishes known.

Kansas currently ranks 42nd in the nation for access to palliative care. The goal is to change that.

“We can do better. We can do better for the communities across Kansas,” Dr. Ficek said.

The state plan was developed by a group that included doctors, nurses, social work, spiritual care and patients and families.

If you’re interested in it for you or a loved one, ask your doctor. You also can find information and providers through the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment’s palliative care page.