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Palliative Care

The Palliative Care Service at UCSF Medical Center is dedicated to the care and comfort of seriously ill patients and their families. The goal is to maximize a patient's comfort, while providing appropriate medical treatment, in the advanced stage of illness.

Palliative care is commonly seen as a way to improve the quality of a person's last phase of life. But at UCSF Medical Center, the service is available to others, when appropriate, at any stage of serious illness such as cancer, chronic liver disease, emphysema, heart failure, kidney failure and stroke. All patients can ask their doctor or nurse for a consultation with the Palliative Care Service.

The UCSF program was honored in 2007 with the American Hospital Association's Circle of Life Award that recognizes innovation in palliative and end-of-life care. The award is co-sponsored by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, with support in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The goals of palliative care are:

  • Promote the highest quality of life by controlling symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and anxiety.
  • Provide support for patients, families and staff.
  • Facilitate communication about the illness process and the options for care.
  • Teach palliative care to our residents, nurses, medical students and staff.
  • Conduct research and promote national efforts to continuously improve the quality of care for people with serious and life-threatening illness.

Comfort Care Suites

The Palliative Care Service includes a two-bed hospital unit, the Comfort Care Suites, that provides a more home-like setting for patients and their families. The Comfort Care Suites offer the following special features:

  • Quiet, private rooms with art, music and warm lighting.
  • Facilities for family members who wish to provide company around the clock.
  • Attention to psychological and spiritual needs of the patient and family.
  • Music therapy to help patients and families relax and relieve stress.
  • Healing touch, guided imagery and other complementary and alternative therapies to help alleviate symptoms and promote relaxation.
  • Visiting privileges for children to help them cope with loss, grieving and death.

The Team

Patients are cared for by their doctors with consultation from the palliative care staff. The palliative care team includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, chaplains and ethicists who help patients address a broad range of issues.

The palliative care staff is headed by hospitalist Dr. Steven Pantilat, director and founder of the service. Hospitalists are doctors who specialize in coordinating the sometimes complex array of care and issues patients face while in the hospital.

Other doctors on the team include:

Team members also include:

  • Susan Barbour, clinical nurse specialist
  • Denah Joseph, chaplain
  • Julie Koppel, nurse manager
  • Laura Woods, social worker
  • Bridget Sumser, social worker

Zen Hospice Project

UCSF Medical Center has partnered with the Zen Hospice Project, which provides two beds for UCSF patients and helps train UCSF students in palliative care. The Zen guesthouse provides a homelike alternative for terminally ill patients who can no longer remain at home due to progressive illness, limited finances or lack of adequate social support.

The six-bed facility is a restored Victorian home at 273 Page St. in San Francisco where hospice staff and volunteers provide compassionate, comprehensive services that support patients and their loved ones. Dr. B.J. Miller, a hospitalist and palliative medicine specialist with the Symptom Management Services team at UCSF's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, is executive director of the Zen Hospice Project.

Pediatric Palliative Care

For pediatric palliative care, see the Compass Care program at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.