Updated: Aug 11
In September, 2021, Erika Atkins’ 67-year-old mother Willetta underwent a surgery to remove her sternoclavicular joint and breast bone. Afterwards, Erika reached out to the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) about their Advanced Illness Management (AIM) program to find ways they could assist her mother. She is grateful for their compassionate care and role as a liaison between her and her mother and external health services.
What is Palliative Care?
The AIM program provides palliative care to seniors with illnesses that require them to receive extra assistance with things such as medication, monitoring symptoms and helping patients understand their conditions. Unlike hospice care, which provides comfort to people without the intent of curing an illness, palliative care can be curative.
Erika had known about the VNA through her role as a Program Director at the St. Louis College of Health Careers, where she sent volunteers to assist in the VNA office. Through this experience, she began to learn about the heart of the agency so that when she was in need of assistance as a caregiver through palliative care, she knew where to turn.
VNA’s Exceptional Care
As her mother Willetta undergoes curative treatment for recurring infections as a result of her surgery, VNA provides palliative care to help her stay comfortable, stay on top of her condition and provide guidance regarding healthcare decisions. For example, last December, Willetta began to slip back into an infection. It was a bad idea for her to go into the hospital again due to rising COVID cases. VNA acted as a bridge to keep Willetta out of the hospital. On Christmas Day, Erika even called VNA to get advice and received the guidance and support she needed to get her mother to a doctor.
Helping Outside of Palliative Care
Apart from providing palliative care, VNA helps in other ways too. For example, because Willetta had been in the hospital for so long after her surgery, she had been unable to see an eye doctor. As a result, her glaucoma had gone untreated. They attempted to get in touch with a specialist, but there wasn’t an appointment available for six weeks. On top of that, the doctor’s office was failing to send over the records to the eye specialist. It wasn’t until VNA intervened on Erika and Willetta’s behalf, talking with the eye doctors and offices to help coordinate Willetta’s care, that they were able to connect all the necessary dots to get Willetta the eye care she needed.
Connecting Caregivers with Resources
VNA also has access to organizations that can help caregivers and their loved ones beyond what VNA is capable of through their palliative care. VNA connected Erika with an organization called Safe Transitions along with outpatient therapy services.
“They have a great knowledge of what’s available for anything you may ask for,” says Erika. “Just by having a conversation with them, they can refer you to an organization that can get that need met. Don’t think of VNA as just a place where you can get the care they offer; think of them as a portal to information that gets you any resource you need.”
The VNA Difference
“It’s clear that the patient’s desires and outcomes are aligned with the purpose and mission of [VNA],” says Erika. “All too often for outpatient clinics, physicians offices and hospitals, they get bogged down in the minutiae and fail to get all of a patient’s needs addressed. With VNA, it’s different.”