Published on August 27, 2018

Essentia Health offers supportive and palliative care

Helping patients meet goals and wishes

Dr. Julie Olson believes you’ve earned the right to say how you want the rest of your life to unfold, especially when you’re in the hospital with a chronic or serious illness.

Dr. Olson leads a new service at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center that helps patients and their families make decisions about health care and create a plan to meet a patient’s goals and wishes.

“Supportive and palliative care helps people who are chronically or seriously ill to live the best life they can,” Dr. Olson explains. “That means different things to different people. We want to know what’s important to that person and how can we work as a team to make that happen.”

Supportive and palliative care differs from hospice care, which is offered to people at the end of life. Instead it focuses on people with conditions that limit how they can live and can come at any stage of a serious illness, Dr. Olson says.

The service begins when staff meet with a hospitalized patient and family after getting a physician’s referral. The conversation identifies the patient’s goals and engages family members in a discussion.

“The patient is the center of our focus,” Dr. Olson says. “It’s all about them, their concerns and goals. We help them talk to their family because many are uncomfortable with these conversations. I open the door to talk about difficult things.”

The consultation outlines the patient’s health condition, discusses how to address physical symptoms and asks how everyone is coping. Emotional and spiritual support are offered.

Staff develop a care plan and help the family navigate the health care system. “We can help with pain, anxiety, symptom control and side effects of a disease or medications,” Dr. Olson explains. Staff can also connect the family to social workers and community services so a patient can return home or find an appropriate facility.

Dr. Olson works with the program’s coordinator, Registered Nurse Abbey Baillif, and the hospital’s chaplains, including Peggy Holtz and Marlys “Jean” Olson.

“It’s rewarding for me when a patient says what they want to happen and we see it happen,” Dr. Olson says. “It’s also rewarding when I see the lines of communication open and a patient’s wishes and goals are fulfilled.”

Dr. Olson’s interest in supportive and palliative care comes from watching her own family care for aging elders, especially her paternal grandmother who lived on a farm in Iowa and reached 102. As her grandmother aged, she saw her family facing challenges and having different goals for her grandmother’s care. “We had to stop and listen to what she wanted,” Dr. Olson remembers. “I felt like that made me, as a physician, want to help other families more.”

For more information on St. Joseph’s supportive and palliative care, call the team at (218) 828-7568.


The Supportive and Palliative Care program is just one of many areas that St. Joseph’s Foundation supports through financial donations.  Funds were provided for staff development, staff/patient/family education, and patient comfort and care items such as music therapy, massage, pet therapy, and other care items.  St. Joseph’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports community health initiatives and Essentia Health facilities in the Brainerd Lakes Area. St. Joseph’s Foundation began in 1990 with a $10,000 gift from the St. Joseph’s Medical Center Auxiliary. Since then, it’s raised more than $10 million.

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