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Shepherd, Hospice of the Panhandle to co-host end-of-life seminar

By Staff | Oct 7, 2016

Two Shepherd University professors with expertise in end-of-life care will participate in a seminar based on the best-selling book “Being Mortal” by Dr. Atul Gawande and the PBS FRONTLINE documentary based on that book. The event, sponsored by Shepherd and Hospice of the Panhandle, is free and open to the public and will take place Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 6-8 p.m. in Shepherd’s Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium.

Gawande is a practicing surgeon, writer, researcher and professor at Harvard Medical School. In “Being Mortal” he looks at physicians’ struggles to help patients who are dying and explores what the medical profession can do to make a patient’s end of life more comfortable and meaningful.

During the seminar, there will be a screening of the documentary followed by a panel discussion. Panelists will include Dr. Geri Crawley-Woods, chair of the Department of Social Work, Dr. Barbara Spencer, assistant professor of nursing education and Dr. Sarah Phillips, medical director of Hospice of the Panhandle. Maria Lorensen, hospice’s development director, will moderate.

“We think it’s really important to get the word out to the community and talk about this issue,” Spencer said. “It’s a discussion that needs to happen before the family is in an end-of-life or traumatic situation. We need to find out what the individual wants and not force family members to make decisions.”

Crawley-Woods said families tend to make better choices when they talk about end-of-life care while their family member is still relatively healthy.

“In the moment when you’re faced with the dying of someone who is close to you, it’s just paralyzing and people are not at their best,” Crawley-Woods said. “They are not most able to make good choices.”

Crawley-Woods thinks American culture gives little support to the notion of thoroughly discussing end-of-life issues because there’s a perception that, with all the technology available, just about any disease can be beaten.

“In my view there’s a fine line between treatment and torture,” Crawley-Woods said.

“We need to back away from that ‘fix it at all costs’ attitude because death is not optional.”

Spencer, who works at Hospice of Washington County, Maryland, in the palliative care office, said even primary care providers are uncomfortable talking with their patients about end-of-life care.

“We’ve had physicians and nurse practitioners refer patients to see me to have that difficult discussion,” Spencer said.

“We think this event will provide an opportunity for a candid conversation among students, professionals and community members.”

The seminar will offer two Category I contact hours for social workers from the West Virginia Board of Social Work and 1.75 hours of continuing education credits for nurses from the State of West Virginia Board of Nursing Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses.

For more information about the seminar, contact Hospice of the Panhandle at 304-264-0406.