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Your faculty and staff news since 1965
November 15, 2004
Volume 40, Number 4

HSC receives grant to work with families

By Cindy Foster

The teaching hospitals associated with the UNM Health Sciences Center report an average of 750 inpatient deaths a year from chronic conditions such as neoplasm, heart and pulmonary disease and diabetes.

Training physicians to work with those patients and to be involved in providing care and decision making at the end of life is the goal of a $200,000 grant Health Sciences received from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.

The goal of the grant, titled “A Time to Live – a Time To Die, Integration of a Sustainable Palliative Care Curriculum with Emphasis on American Indian and Hispanic Populations,” is to integrate palliative care into medical school education, said Judith Kitzes, M.D., MPH, professor in the UNM School of Medicine Department of Medicine and section chief of the Palliative Care division will serve as principal investigator for the grant.

“As the U.S. population ages, more and more of the elderly live with chronic, treatable - but incurable diseases,” said Kitzes. “While technology is responsible for these increases in lifespan, we are finding that more and more, people are terrified of the act of dying – of discussing it and of participating as a family member or patient.

“In palliative care, the value of compassionate communication cannot be overstated,” she said. “Patients and family members look to physicians not only for knowledge and technical skill throughout the course of a terminal illness, but also for guidance, reassurance, and hope.”

But, in these times of an emphasis on containing cost and reducing hospital stays, expanding a medical perspective to effectively include end of life decisions made jointly by the patient and members of his or her family may mean making a mental shift in how health professionals deal effectively with issues.

“It may mean having to wait an extra day as the family assembles from out of town or out of state,” said Kitzes. “But it is important to honor this process.”
The two year grant includes medical school training and state outreach.