The word “palliative” comes from the Latin pallium, meaning “cloak.” A cloak is a fitting image for a model of health care focused on encompassing the whole person, not just their illness. Palliative care is often confused with hospice—a narrower subtype of palliative care focused on the end of life—but increasingly, it isn’t only for people who have a terminal prognosis. The basic idea is that a team of doctors, nurses, and social workers collaborates to alleviate pain and stress. Their top priority is to improve quality of life, whether or not a cure is possible.
On a hot, rainy August morning, UT social work professor and assistant dean Barbara Jones is explaining this to a roomful of doctors and legislators at a health care conference. Jones is a bright-eyed woman who speaks quickly and moves with the smooth, confident gestures of a karate teacher, which she is.
“Palliative care is not about death,” Jones tells them. “It’s more about living. In pediatric palliative care we look for ways to reduce suffering and allow kids and families to live life to the fullest.”
The concept is intuitive: People with chronic, life-threatening illnesses need more than pills and surgeries. They need help navigating insurance and hospital bureaucracies, managing work and school, and processing devastating emotions. Their families need help with all those things, too.