New palliative care unit caters to whole families

School of Nursing Sign
Bernard Sussman, M.D., fifth from left, is a son of the new unit’s namesakes. In addition to helping cut the opening ribbon, Sussman told attendees how watching his mother’s struggle against lymphoma made him passionate about palliative care.

In early April, URMC’s Palliative Care team and supporters celebrated the opening of the Albert and Phyllis Sussman Palliative Care Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Located on 4-1200, the renovated unit boasts 12 private rooms, amenities and top medical care, offering both the best quality of life and disease management for patients and their families. Unlike hospice, which caters exclusively to life’s last days, palliative care provides medical treatment, pain management and comfort care during all stages of serious illness.

“This beautiful, spacious, family-friendly unit was specially designed to provide patients the most modern palliative care treatments alongside any and all medically indicated therapies,” said Timothy E. Quill, M.D., professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Medical Humanities, and chief of URMC’s Palliative Care Division.

“The Things We Never Said”

Bernard Sussman, M.D. – son of the new palliative care unit’s namesakes – spoke to guests at the April 6 dedication.

An internist and palliative care consultant, Sussman recounted the difference in care then and now, telling the story of his mother’s diagnosis of lymphoma.

“Unlike the cautious optimism that characterizes treatment of lymphoma today, we knew at the start that my mother would not survive her illness. My mother, however, did not know that – at least, we never discussed it with her. Patients were rarely told of terminal diagnoses at that time. It was thought that knowledge of grave illness would undermine one’s will to live and be a source of unnecessary suffering.”

Sussman now realizes that was a mistake. “None of her doctors or we, her family, recognized the strength and courage I know she possessed to face her condition. The things we never said, because reality was cloaked in secrecy, fill me with a longing I accept but feel more keenly today because of what I have learned since about the power and importance of loving conversations at the end of life.”

To read Sussman’s complete comments, click here.

“The field of palliative care did not exist in the early 1970s,” Sussman said. “When my mother came home for the last weeks of her life, we had limited medical guidance and no help at home. Like so many before and after, we did the best we could... We made things up as necessity required… One of us was with her at almost all times and I choose to think that the love of family was a principal source of comfort for her.” (Click here to read more of Sussman’s comments.)

This concept of family involvement in palliative care was a commanding influence in the new unit’s design. One dozen bright, big rooms huddle around a comfy common area outfitted with conveniences that help family members feel at home while visiting with their loved ones. Each private room is furnished with a sofa bed for family members who wish to stay overnight.

URMC’s Palliative Care Program aims to help ease patient and family suffering and to uphold patient quality of life through high-quality clinical consultation, education and research. Last year alone, it conducted more than 900 inpatient consultations and more that 200 outpatient and home consultations.

URMC and its affiliates have more than 20 board-certified specialists in palliative care, plus a diverse care team featuring clinicians from a wide range of disciplines, including physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, researchers, medical residents, social workers, chaplains, a music practitioner, massage therapists, and a bereavement coordinator. Recently recognized as a subspecialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties, palliative care is a division of URMC’s Department of Medicine.

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