Support building for palliative care in Wisconsin

Tim Jessick, chairman of the recently formed Palliative Care Network of Wisconsin, is trying to build out a broad support network for palliative care providers.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness, focusing on quality of life, stress relief and symptom management.

“The approach is patient- and family-centered,” Jessick told “For palliative care people, the skill is really at communication; how can we meet patients and families where they are, and figure out which treatments make sense, and which don’t make sense.”

As Jessick explains it, most modern medicine is practiced in silos, where individual care experts specialize heavily within a certain field of study.

“We come in and look at the big picture, what patients and families want,” he said. “It’s a different approach to care.”

Jessick, a practicing physician for over a decade and current chair of the ethics committee at Aurora West Allis Medical Center, decided along with some colleagues to launch a network for health care providers that administer this type of care. It began in January 2015, and Jessick says there has been “great support” so far.

The Wisconsin Medical Society provided seed money to get the network off the ground. Starting as a “grassroots network” with only a handful of medical professionals, it has now grown to over 3,700 members around the world, with 500 of those in Wisconsin.

“We started talking about how palliative is getting bigger, more folks using us… and that’s part of the worry, that there are a lot of palliative care providers out there that are all by themselves,” he said.

Because palliative care is advancing all the time, it can be hard for more isolated care providers to stay up-to-date with the latest best practices.

“They are expected to know a bunch of different stuff, and it’s really tough for them,” Jessick said. “When we started this network, we thought, `How do we help providers out there?’”

He says it’s important that membership to the network is free, so that no one is barred from getting the benefits. Its purpose is to support clinicians working in palliative care, Jessick says, but it also has a website with helpful tools and educational materials for providers.

“We want to be an advocate for palliative care providers, but also for patients and families,” he said.

That means talking to legislators and hospital systems to push for more patient-centered care, aiming for system-level change to improve care quality, said. Now, almost three years after starting, Jessick says “we’re still trying to figure ourselves out, but we’re getting the word out, and our resources online are helpful to folks.”

Jessick says nurses are providing positive feedback about the website, which offers info about pain management, nausea, family meetings and more.

“They seem to be helping folks; they seem to be using them,” he said. “We want to be a resource.”

Submissions on the site’s blog forum have come from Portland to Israel, and others in the network can reach out to lend a hand, Jessick said.

“It blows me away that there’s so much interest,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me, though, that palliative folks want to help other people out. Clearly, the need is there, and we’re pleased to be part of that resource.”

Looking down the road, Jessick has high hopes for developing a state palliative care advisory council. He says conversations with lawmakers and folks from the American Cancer Society have already begun regarding possible Wisconsin legislation for its creation.

“It’s all about establishing relationships with folks along the way,” he added. “As membership continues to grow, hopefully we can broaden our scope a little more.”

See the network’s site:

–By Alex Moe