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Passion for palliative care drives NYC nurse

Marlene McHugh’s interest in palliative care started early in her 29-year nursing career.

She carried out orders but saw patients’ physical and psychological suffering, especially in the ICU, that wasn’t addressed.

“Most nurses struggle with patients who are suffering,” said McHugh, DNP, FNP-BC, RN, ACHPN, FPCN, assistant professor of clinical nursing at Columbia University, Manhattan, and associate director, palliative care service, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx.

While earning her master’s degree at the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York, McHugh saw many patients with poorly controlled pain, she said. She realized she needed more training in symptom management and pursued a fellowship with Russell K. Portenoy, MD, and Marilyn Bookbinder, RN, PhD.

The model of palliative care reflected the model of nursing care, she said.
“It’s working with patients where they are in their disease process and how to improve quality of life for them and their caregivers,” she said. “Palliative care and nursing care are synonymous to me.”

Her passion and efforts in palliative care led to her earning the Fellow in Palliative Care Nursing designation from the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association in March. This year, only four other nurses were awarded the distinction, which rewards those who show leadership in advancing palliative care, according to the association.

“She is a role model for her colleagues and consistently facilitates team building for interdisciplinary teams and helps her colleagues to orientate their activities to a primary goal — being a high-functioning team that delivers state-of-the-art care,” said Sean O’Mahony, MB, BCh, BAO, director of palliative care at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and associate professor at Rush University’s College of Nursing.

Palliative program’s start

McHugh and O’Mahony established a palliative medicine program 11 years ago at Montefiore Medical Center, he said.

The program includes “a 14-bed hospice and palliative medicine unit, physician fellowship, multiple elective rotations, a medical school course in palliative medicine and several clinics tailored to the needs of patients with cancer, HIV disease, chronic liver disease, chronic medical illnesses and complex mental health problems,” O’Mahony said.

Recently at Montefiore, McHugh completed a study to determine how a team in the inpatient palliative care unit could manage patients’ various advanced illnesses such as heart failure, infections and cancer, and help with transitions of care. The results showed that hospitals with the specialized units, along with hospice care provided on med/surg units, could provide “efficient, cost-effective assistance to patients with advanced chronic illness or terminal disease,” according to a Columbia news release.

McHugh has made a strong impression on her colleague.

“She has consistently demonstrated outstanding leadership skills in developing multidisciplinary teams that are orientated around delivery of high-quality care for patients living with chronic progressive illnesses,” O’Mahony said.

Moving forward

That finding will be important as the healthcare industry must address the needs of an aging population.

McHugh said nurses will need to include palliative care in their generalist skills so patients will not have to wait for palliative care specialists before starting to provide that treatment.

“We’re moving palliative care upstream,” she said. “We’re getting much better in the American [nursing schools} about identifying that we need to make this a priority.”

Karen Long is a freelance writer.

By | 2014-09-22T00:00:00-04:00 September 22nd, 2014|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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