Home away from hospital

Ember Gard, RN, makes weekly home visits to manage Jo Anne Coonrod’s chronic illnesses.

At first, Jo Anne Coonrod was taken aback when her doctor suggested home palliative care. She has congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her condition sent her to the hospital five times in a single year, but she wasn’t ready for what she thought were end-of-life services.

“I pictured a hospital bed in my living room,” she says. “But my doctor explained that this is a step before that, to keep people where they are for as long as they can, and hopefully to get well enough not to need palliative care.”

Palliative care is commonly thought to be a service only for the dying. On the contrary, it can help people with a range of chronic illnesses to live fuller lives. Coonrod is one of them.

Once or twice a week, Ember Gard, RN, from Providence Home Health Palliative Care, visits the southeast Portland home that Coonrod, 60, shares with her husband, Cliff, who himself is recovering from severe burns he received in an on-the-job accident.

Gard checks Coonrod’s health, monitors her warfarin levels and listens to her lungs for excess fluid that could signal a decline in her condition.

“If she’s having difficulty breathing or increased weakness, we address that,” Gard says. “Sometimes we can get her in to see her physician immediately, or make changes to her medication so that she doesn’t end up in the hospital.”

Coonrod also was set up with oxygen equipment, mobility devices, and a social worker who provides emotional and psychological support. With her counselor, Coonrod shares the frustration of having two limiting conditions, and the worry of overburdening her husband. When Cliff was hospitalized for six weeks following his accident, the social worker arranged for someone to help Coonrod with housekeeping.

“I would like to get across how important this service is,” Coonrod says. “This has been a life-changing experience for me.”