Hospitalization can be a frightening and overwhelming experience, especially for children facing life-threatening or chronic illnesses. It can trigger a variety of feelings, such as anxiety, confusion, and isolation, which can negatively affect a child’s physical and emotional health. The experience also takes a toll on parents and caregivers.
To help patients and families cope with these difficulties, the Supportive Care and Comfort Team was created at Comer Children’s in 2008. The team provides a range of services, including palliative care, pain management, bereavement support, and integrative medicine, which offers a holistic approach to care.
“While integrative medicine services, such as meditation and aromatherapy, do not replace standard medical care, they can help enhance the patient experience,” said K. Sarah Hoehn, MD, medical director of pediatric palliative care services at Comer Children’s. “When families are stressed and children are in pain, these services can change the trajectory of illness and are instrumental in improving the well-being of the child and family.”
Thanks to more than a decade of support from the Oberweiler Foundation, of Barrington, Illinois, with more than $345,000 donated, the Supportive Care and Comfort Team has been able to expand its services and offer trainings in integrative medicine for physicians, residents, nurses, and staff. This year, a grant from the foundation allowed the team to expand the massage therapy program by hiring a part-time massage therapist who provides therapy three days a week for children and parents.
“When caring for a sick child, parents tend to forget to take care of themselves and might not even take time for a shower,” Hoehn said. “It makes a really big difference that parents can get a massage in their hospital room to help achieve the calm they need.”
Staff are also available on every floor of Comer Children’s to administer aromatherapy to help alleviate pain and stress. For example, peppermint may be used to help control patients’ nausea, while lavender can help calm patients.
Every year, the Supportive Care and Comfort Team serves more than 300 children, the majority of whom are in the pediatric intensive care unit, general pediatrics, and oncology areas. Thanks to the Oberweiler Foundation’s support, more than 1,000 patients have benefited from these services.
“The foundation believes that the Supportive Care and Comfort Team’s support of Comer Children’s patients through integrative medicine is a differentiating factor for the hospital and an asset for the community it serves,” said Siegfried Weiler, president of the Oberweiler Foundation.
The Supportive Care and Comfort Team also offers yoga classes. However, these are currently on hold for patients’ and families’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hoehn plans to restart the classes once it is deemed safe to do so.
With the foundation’s support, the Integrated Medicine Symposium was also created to educate hospital staff and the next generation of physicians on integrative medicine.
“When residents and physicians learn and use integrative medicine, more patients are reached, alternative protocols become common practice, the impact of the Foundation’s investment is maximized, and the depth and breadth of healthcare options grows,” said Mary Rowe, executive director of the Oberweiler Foundation.
Although the symposium was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, there are plans to restart it next year to continue to educate physicians in integrative medicine.
“The Oberweiler Foundation’s support has allowed us to really grow the program and bring integrative medicine into different areas of the hospital and across disciplines,” Hoehn said. “For our patients and families, the foundation’s support has helped make their hospital stay less overwhelming.”