If you have ever visited VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Thomas Palliative Care Unit, you have likely seen the effort nurses and staff make to provide a unique, home-like atmosphere for patients and their loved ones.
With that effort in mind, palliative care nurse manager Clareen Wiencek, Ph.D., adopted the idea of Palliative Care on Wheels. With funds provided by the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals (MCVH) Auxiliary, the palliative care unit developed a cart full of materials for activities that would offer comfort to patients and their families, as well as tools for the nurses to enhance care. Hospital volunteers stocked the cart with blankets, handprint-making tools, books, crayons, paints and more.
The activities fostered by the cart provided patients with an outlet to talk about their illness and gave them tools to create memories with their families.
“Families have used the permanent markers on lap quilts to write messages to their loved ones,” said Wiencek, “and some of our care partners have used the hand molding clay to make handprints of dying patients.”
She said the Palliative Care on Wheels activities gives patients permission to talk about death and dying, a subject that can be tough to communicate. “The items in the cart give them an outlet to express those feelings.”
After seeing the success of the cart, other units and clinics within the hospital began requesting their own. The carts are now available on the oncology, medical respiratory intensive care, cardiac, intermediate care/telemetry and emergency floors. Each cart reflects the needs of the patients of each floor. For example, the oncology cart has homemade hats and blankets to give to patients undergoing chemotherapy and the cardiac cart has pedometers so that patients can track how much they are walking each day.
Recently, palliative care volunteer coordinator Eloise Coyne and a group of volunteers and nurses celebrated the program at a kick-off event. The event featured free demonstrations and training for volunteers on how to use the different items in the carts, as well as lessons on how to interact with patients and their families. Unicia Buster from the VCU Arts in Healthcare Department – which offers music and art therapy – painted the faces of patients and staff.
“By offering these carts to the patients and their families,” Coyne says, “we hope that we will improve their quality of life and provide comfort.”
If you would like to volunteer to help with the carts, or if you are a VCU Medical Center employee and are interested in getting a cart for your unit, contact Eloise Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on palliative care, visit http://www.massey.vcu.edu/palliative-care.htm.