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Executive Director Jennifer Ballentine Palliative Care Update

Today marks the one-month “anniversary” of my taking over the leadership of the CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care from founding Executive Director Helen McNeal. I’ve spent my first month getting to know the staff, as well as university President Karen Haynes and our colleagues at Cal State San Marcos, clients and partners in our many projects, our National Advisory Board, and our generous donors and funders. (128 meetings in 21 days, but who’s counting?)

I’ve been bowled over by the warm welcomes, the extraordinary talent, the passionate commitment to palliative care and the work of the Institute evidenced by all. As I’ve said many times over the past month, I’m humbled – more than a little daunted! – and very excited to be entrusted with such a dynamic and successful enterprise!

The future of palliative care

While I’m still figuring out where things are now at the Institute (including critical items such as budgets, grant reports, university procedures, and the Coffee Cart), I’ve given some thought to the future. It’s really pretty simple:

  • Palliative care is the answer to many of the dysfunctions and deficiencies of the American healthcare system.
  • In order to expand access and increase effectiveness of palliative care throughout the healthcare system, current clinicians and future professionals must be trained at both the specialty and generalist levels.
  • Palliative care training must be accessible, affordable, and reliably high quality – evidence based, expert generated, and pedagogically rigorous. It must impart knowledge and immediately applicable skills that demonstrably improve patients’ experience of care, the well-being of both lay and professional caregivers, outcomes of treatment, and the bottom line.

The Institute’s growing role as the leading palliative care training provider

The Institute exists to develop and deliver such palliative care training to future and current healthcare professionals and communities, and we are the undisputed leader in that effort, nationwide. Our catalog of short self-paced modules and months-long instructor-led certificate courses – all online and affordably priced – comprise the most comprehensive set of offerings in palliative care and now also in case management. In development, for release in the new year, we’re adding Essential Skills in Palliative Care for Every Clinician, a series focused particularly on primary care providers and non-palliative care specialists. In addition, we’ve received funding to develop a new series in pediatric palliative care in collaboration with Providence TrinityCare Hospice and the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California.

Our status as a leader was recently affirmed by the California Department of Health Care Services, which selected the Institute as the key provider of state-funded training in support of SB 1004, a trailblazing law expanding palliative care services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. (See our webpage for details.)

Our vision, our focus

Beyond this, though, I see the Institute as fulfilling a larger role. In the liberal (small “l”) tradition of modern colleges and universities, education is an experience that not only imparts a certain set of marketable skills, but also trains minds, shapes perceptions, hones judgment, and expands understanding – such that the person who is educated is equipped to learn, to grow, and to substantively affect their environments and societies.

Leaders and innovators in palliative care – among them Cicely Saunders, Balfour Mount, Ira Byock, Diane Meier, Timothy Quill, and Betty Ferrell, to name just a few – remind us that palliative care is not “just” a therapeutic approach, but an ethic: a moral orientation guiding behavior and decisions. It is also, I would argue, an esthetic – an orientation prioritizing “beauty” over “utility,” care over treatment, value over volume.

Palliative care, in this larger manifestation, can lead to the utter transformation of settings, work groups, facilities, organizations, systems, and even society, by reminding us of the imperative of human caring in all our interactions.

With that forward vision, I hope to lead the Institute into a fulfillment of its role as an engine of Education and Transformation. Stay tuned!

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