While BIDMC is known for state-of-the-art medical treatments that save lives, we also have a longstanding reputation for excellence in helping patients and families confront the inevitable process of dying.
More than 600 inpatients die each year at BIDMC. Many more pass through our inpatient units shortly before going home or to another facility for their last days. For years, the BIDMC palliative care consultation service has assisted many of these patients and their families, through direct consultations and through educational and other support of their caregivers.
We are frequently consulted to help a patient and family identify their most important goals for whatever time remains, and to suggest care plans that can achieve as many of those goals as possible. Controlling pain or nausea can allow patients and their loved ones to enjoy additional time together that is priceless. Creative efforts can fulfill some patients' deepest wish - to spend their last days at home. Finally, our Bereavement Program writes to the family of every patient who has died here, offering them support and reminding them that we are not yet done caring about them.
Staffing constraints have nonetheless kept us from providing all the support our patients and families, and their caregivers, need. The recent BIDMC strategic plan provides a major boost in resources. Our staffing will soon nearly double, allowing us to provide even more complete assistance to the hundreds of patients and families we currently see each year, and to reach many more.
We are often asked whether this work is depressing, but our experience - and that of many of our clinician colleagues - is usually the opposite. We cannot change the fact of human mortality, but we can help our patients and their families avoid unnecessary suffering - even find profound meaning - in the last stages of life. This is some of the most important and gratifying care any of us can provide.