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EASTERN CONNECTICUT HEMATOLOGY & ONCOLOGY ASSOCIATES

Palliative Care

At ECHO, we have many patients living with serious illness. Our goal is to not only treat the disease, but to provide relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. This is known as palliative care or supportive oncology.

Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life for both the patient and caregivers to mitigate suffering for people with serious, complex illnesses.

We are fortunate to have one of the leading experts in this field – Dr. Vanessa Johnson. Dr. Johnson has developed palliative care programs at area hospitals and, starting in May of 2021, she launched an official palliative care program at ECHO. She has a dedicated team focused on this area. Below is some additional information about the field of palliative care and what to expect.

About Palliative Care

Palliative care is a newer medical specialty. It is not the same as hospice, which is focused on those who are dying. Palliative care focuses more broadly on improving life and providing comfort to people of all ages with serious, chronic, and life-threatening illnesses. This is not limited to cancer and may apply to people suffering from many other diseases such as congestive heart failure, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s.  

Essential Components of Palliative Care

Palliative care addresses many key aspects of your care, including physical, psychological, spiritual, cultural, and ethical issues. To address these different areas, a dedicated team is in place, with each member bringing unique skills and perspectives. Their goal is to develop a strong relationship with patients and their families based on honesty, trust, and mutual respect.

Some of the key areas the team explores include:

  • Emotional state of the patient and caregivers
  • Symptoms, distress, and management of side effects 
  • Exploration of understanding and education about the illness and its prognosis
  • Clarification of treatment goals
  • Assessment and support of coping needs  
  • Assistance with medical decision-making

The palliative care team coordinates care with other providers and provides referrals to other care providers, as needed.

When Palliative Care May Be Appropriate

Palliative care is available for patients of all ages with any diagnosis or stage of illness. Patients may continue all life-prolonging and disease-directed treatments.

Some people may begin palliative care when first diagnosed with a serious illness, even as they continue to pursue a cure. Palliative care doesn’t mean that you have lost hope or have ended treatment.

Some patients recover and move out of palliative care. Others with chronic diseases may move in and out of palliative care as the need arises.

If cure of a life-threatening disease becomes unlikely, palliative care can improve the quality of your life. And when death draws near, palliative care can transition to hospice care.

The Palliative Care Team at ECHO

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work together with your oncology team to provide an extra layer of support.  Our team is comprised of:

  • Director of Palliative Care  
  • APRN
  • Oncology Care Coordinator
  • Nurse Navigator and Educator
  • Medical assistant
  • Two schedulers

Other individuals who may be involved in your palliative care include a social worker, dietitian, physical or occupational therapist, clergy members, and others, depending on your individual needs.

We work together, and with you, to ensure that you have the necessary emotional and logistical support and all the resources you need.  

Getting Started

Our physicians or a member of your care team may suggest that palliative care can be beneficial, or you may make this determination on your own. 

To begin the process, we conduct a comprehensive consultation which can last 1-2 hours. These meetings are currently held on Wednesday afternoons.

During this meeting, we identify where you are in your illness, your specific needs, and where additional resources could be beneficial. Some of the areas we discuss include:

  • Your emotional state
  • Your personal wishes and clarity of the decision(s) you face
  • Advance directives
  • Managing your pain
  • Where additional resources are needed

Based on this meeting, we then create a personalized plan for you. Members of our team will help coordinate resources and will periodically check in and provide follow-up.

If you believe that you can benefit from palliative care, we would love to talk with you. Please call (860) 886-8362 X288.

Meet Our Director of Palliative Care

Dr. Vanessa Johnson, MD, MPH, HMPC

Dr. Johnson completed her medical training at Cornell University Medical College in 1995 and received her Master of Public Health degree from Columbia University School of Public Health the following year. She did her general medicine residency at Rhode Island Hospital/ Brown Medical School and remained there for a hematology/ oncology fellowship. She is board certified in several specialties, including internal medicine, hematology, oncology, and hospice and palliative medicine.

Dr. Johnson’s interest in palliative care was sparked when she watched a family member suffer with a debilitating disease without having access to good support or guidance on decision making. Dr. Johnson became actively involved in this area, becoming an expert in the field.

At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, she became a founding member involved in the creation of a palliative care program. She did so on a volunteer basis. She believes that palliative care is essential and fills a gap in healthcare. Physicians are so busy with treatment that they often don’t have the time to spend with patients in managing how the treatment impacts their lives. She believes that honesty is essential and does not shy away from having the tough conversations with patients, so they know what to expect and have the support they need.

At ECHO, Dr. Johnson is proud to spearhead efforts in palliative care. She works with a multi-disciplinary team to compassionately work with patients and their families who are facing these difficult issues.

Dr. Johnson serves as local Associate Medical Director of Hospice through Hartford Healthcare and is board certified as a Hospice Medical Director.

Members of Palliative Care Team

Dr. Vanessa Johnson, MD, MPH, HMPC: Director

Raphaella Daggett, APRN, MSN, APRN-BC

Kristin Watson, RN, OCN: Oncology Care Coordinator

Melissa Tunnacliffe, MSN., RN: Nurse Navigator

Marlee Krodel: Medical Assistant

Sheena Chapman, Rebecca Moore: Schedulers

How to Reach Us

If you believe that you can benefit from palliative care, we would love to talk with you. Please call (860) 886-8362 X288.