May/June 2000

Franciscan Health System in Tacoma honored for end-of-life care

Franciscan Health System, Tacoma, Wash., is one of the first recipients of the new Circle of Life Award: Celebrating Innovation in End-of-Life Care. The award honors innovative programs that improve the care people receive during the last days of their lives. The award is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, initiated by the American Hospital Association and co-sponsored by the American Medical Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Franciscan Health System received the award for Improving Care Through the End of Life, a clinic-based program that helps dying patients choose how they want to live the rest of their lives. The program uses a program coordinator (usually a nurse), chaplain, physician and volunteers to marshal community, clinic and hospital resources to ensure that dying patients and families have the support they need and want. The coordinator regularly checks with physicians in the clinic to find out if they would be surprised if patients with certain conditions died within the next year. If the answer for a particular patient is no, that patient becomes a candidate for the program.

Improving Care Through the End of Life fills a gap and builds a bridge until the time is right for hospice. Because the program relies heavily on volunteers and uses existing community resources, it is relatively inexpensive to replicate, costing about $80,000 annually per clinic.