By Tina Picchi
The Supportive Care Coalition promotes palliative care as a hallmark of Catholic healthcare, intrinsic to its healing mission. We partner with many Catholic health organizations, including NACC and CHA, as well as other national palliative care groups to improve the quality of care and quality of life for people living with or affected by serious illness. Palliative care embodies an enduring commitment to provide compassionate, high-quality, person-centered care for the seriously ill and their loved ones by anticipating, preventing, and relieving suffering.
Founded in 1994 in the Pacific Northwest, the SCC now has a strong national presence with 19 Catholic organizations dedicated to advancing excellence in palliative care. Our SCC membership comprises a rich diversity of disciplines, leaders in medicine, nursing, social work, chaplaincy, mission, and ethics as well as other healthcare fields. The coalition currently has four strategic priorities: spirituality in palliative care team practice; education and leading practices; advocacy; and mission and ethics integration.
Our vision is to bring a stronger presence of spiritual care into palliative care practice and champion the role of the chaplain as a core member of the interdisciplinary team. During the past three years, SCC has partnered with NACC to support the design and implementation of that chaplain specialty certification for palliative care and hospice, which produced its first certified chaplains last year.
At the heart of our ministry, we recognize each patient encounter is sacred. SCC has a particular commitment to integrate spirituality into clinical practice, inviting our palliative care colleagues to listen intently for the voice of the soul and draw upon this spiritual wisdom to inform and shape patient goals and decisions.
Our Spirituality in Goals of Care Project recognizes that spiritual care is the responsibility of every team member and that chaplains are uniquely prepared to be spiritual care mentors and models for their interprofessional colleagues. Our two-year project, which included 20 interdisciplinary palliative care teams, has improved communication skills, strengthened collaboration and self-assessment, and promoted high-quality goals of care conversations for people living with serious illness. This project encouraged clinicians to partner more closely with chaplains and introduced team practices designed to promote deeper spiritual engagement with patients, families, and the care team. Forming learning communities, we tested practices that helped these teams be more spiritually grounded, build trust, ask open-ended questions, listen for deeper spiritual concerns, and be intentionally present to spiritual suffering — the patient’s, the family’s, and their own. Goals of care conferences helped to develop a team culture around spirituality and introduce specific team behaviors to provide whole-person care as well as build team resiliency and enhance spiritual well-being.
The 2014 Institute of Medicine Report, Dying in America, identified a serious problem with educational silos that impede interprofessional healthcare teams. The Supportive Care Coalition offers educational programs that develop the interdisciplinary team’s ability to be transdisciplinary in caring for the whole person. Our monthly educational webinar series draws upon the knowledge and skills of many palliative care disciplines to address those professional practice gaps and educational needs. In 2015, approximately 2,100 people participated in these webinars; 27 percent were chaplains.
The Supportive Care Coalition leverages its expertise and resources to be an influential leader for needed improvements in palliative care education, research, clinical practice, and financing mechanisms. These advocacy efforts help advance the concerns of those we serve within the political process. We are a member of the Patient Quality of Life Coalition, formed in 2013, along with many other nongovernmental national organizations who urge legislative and regulatory change that will advance patient, family, and public understanding of palliative care; develop a well-trained palliative care workforce; invest in research; expand the delivery of high-quality palliative care; and ensure access to effective pain and symptom management.
SCC emphasizes the moral dimensions of palliative care as we work with religious leaders and others to ensure that ethical values, standards, and practices are both understood and employed in holistic care for those who are sick and suffering at all stages of their illness. Our website includes several ethical resources for people who serve in the Catholic healthcare ministry.
Tina Picchi, BCC, is executive director of the Supportive Care Coalition.