Palliative Care

When you or your loved one is coping with a serious, medical illness, it can be an overwhelming experience… palliative care services can help.

In the midst of receiving treatments, suffering difficult symptoms, learning about the illness, and coordinating care, it is common for patients to feel as if their entire lives are taken over by the medical condition. Family members and other caregivers are impacted by increased demands for their time and are often overwhelmed with concern for their loved one.

Palliative care provides support for patients and families during this difficult time. By focusing on relief from the symptoms and stresses of a serious illness, no matter the diagnosis, palliative care services support patients of any age and at any stage of illness. It’s important to know that palliative care can be provided along with treatment aimed to cure.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative (pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is person-centered care – you and your family are at the center of all we do. We work to relieve (or prevent) suffering in all forms with a goal to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Palliative care is consistent with Catholic social teaching and reflects the healing ministry of Jesus. The work of palliative care affirms life while recognizing that dying is part of the life cycle.
Palliative care services are helpful in most areas of a patient’s life, as well as their family situation. Consider the following examples:

Physical impact of illness. Many patients with serious illness will have symptoms that cause distress. Palliative care experts help with the management of pain, relieving shortness of breath, managing fatigue, changes to appetite or sleep, and other symptoms.

Social impact of illness. Maintaining strong social connections is important to patients and families when coping with serious illness. The palliative care team will assist in maintaining life style preferences, supporting relationships and maintaining intimacy along with addressing the financial concerns of a patient and their family.

Emotional impact of illness. It is common for patients and families to experience a wide range of emotions when coping with serious illness, feelings of worry, sadness, and anger are common. The palliative care team of experts will provide positive ways to address these emotions while assisting the patient and family in determining what is most important to them now.

Spiritual impact of illness. Serious illness can be a time of great spiritual distress and growth. As the patient and family work through the concerns related to the illness, they will face opportunities to identify sources of meaning in their lives, maintain a sense of hope and address their relationship with God.

When is it time for Palliative Care?

The decision to add palliative care services to your care team is an important one. Our experience tells us that palliative care will have the most benefit if involved early in the course of a serious illness. Here are some examples of situations when palliative care would be helpful:

When you are told that you have one or more of the following illnesses:

  • Advanced (serious) cancer of any type
  • Advanced heart or lung disease
  • Neurological diseases, such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Kidney or liver failure

When you are experiencing symptoms that prevent you from being as active as you wish or impact the quality of your life, including:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Serious confusion or memory problems
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Changes in sleep
  • Difficulty coping with the stress of serious illness
  • Spiritual or religious concerns related to the illness
  • Fear or worry about what the future will bring

Indications that your health is declining:

  • Frequent emergency room visits and/or multiple hospitalizations for related reasons
  • Difficult side effects from treatment
  • Less ability to care for yourself

When you or your family need help planning for the future:

  • Knowing what to expect as your illness changes
  • Making decisions about treatment choices
  • Understanding the benefits and burdens of treatment choices
  • Clarifying your goals for care now and in the future
  • Understanding what programs or resources are available
  • Facilitating communication for patient, family and the healthcare team

Differences Between Palliative Care and Hospice

Palliative care is an approach to care with a goal of preventing or relieving suffering (physical, social, emotional and spiritual) and improving quality of life for patients with serious illness and their families. Palliative care is beneficial at any time during the course of an illness and can be offered while a person is having life-prolonging treatments. Treatments meant to cure can continue when receiving palliative care.

Hospice is a special type of palliative care and is appropriate when curative or disease-modifying treatment is no longer possible or not wanted by the patient. In general, hospice care is limited to the last 6 months of life.

The model below shows how palliative care can be successfully combined with treatment of the illness up to the point of death. 

Ministry Health Care Palliative Care Model


Click here to learn more about hospice and available hospice services.

Advance Care Planning and Advanced Directives

We often take for granted that when medical decisions need to be made, we will be able to make decisions for ourselves. Yet, many of us will be asked to make medical decisions for our loved ones. Often family members say,
“I wish we would have talked about this, so I would have known what [Mom] wanted.”

Talking about your healthcare wishes may not be easy, but it will help your family understand what is important to you. It gives you a chance to share your healthcare wishes with your family and your providers.

Having conversations and completing an advance directive document is often called Advance Care Planning. Advance Care Planning also helps you and your family better understand your healthcare choices and prepare for the decisions you may face as you live with illness.

Ministry Health Care and Columbia St. Mary’s offer this information to help you discuss your choices and write an Advance Directive. Take some time to review Practical Guide to Advance Care Planning and Advance Directives and the information on this webpage.



  • Guide your healthcare in a way that fits with your beliefs, values and goals.
  • Make sure your wishes are followed even if you are not able to speak for yourself.
  • Support relationships between you, your family and your healthcare providers.
  • Lift the stress of difficult decision making on family or friends.


An Advance Directive is a written instruction that state your choices about future healthcare decisions.  These documents guide your physicians and loved ones in the event you cannot make healthcare decisions for yourself.  An Advance Directive makes sure that your beliefs and wishes are known.


Power of Attorney for Healthcare is a document that allows you to pick one or more persons to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. This person is known as your healthcare agent. The document offers guidance to your healthcare agent(s) and healthcare providers(s) about your treatment preference so they can best honor your wishes.

We also recognize that it may be difficult to know what to discuss with your healthcare agent or whom to choose as a healthcare agent. Ministry offers a set of questionnaires that may be helpful for you. We hope that when you compare your answers to those of your agent, you will have a better idea of topics to discuss to aid in your decision-making.

And your healthcare agent:

Living Will/Declaration to Physicians is document that gives instructions to healthcare providers about the type of life sustaining care you would want only in the event of a terminal condition or persistent vegetative state.

If the Power of Attorney for Healthcare document is not the preferred document for you, use the Wisconsin State Living Will (Declaration to Physicians). Please note: this form does not allow you to legally designate a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able.

Community Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order and Bracelet is an order and legal document issued by a physician that communicates to emergency medical technicians (EMTs), first responders or emergency department staff that a qualified patient has decided he/she does not wish to be resuscitated. A qualified patient is an adult who has a terminal condition or would suffer pain or harm from resuscitation or for whom resuscitation would be unsuccessful. The form must be signed by the patient (or guardian or POAHC agent) and the physician AND a bracelet with must be worn by the patient to signify to emergency personnel they do not want resuscitation.

For more information, obtain a form by clicking on the link below:


If you or your agents move or change phone numbers, please use the Demographic Change Form to update the information. Once completed please give a copy to your providers and or your local hospital.

Wisconsin Catholic Conference Addendum to POAHC Form

In March of 2014, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference offered an addendum for a patient’s advance directive from the Catholic perspective. It is important to note that this addendum is merely that, an addendum. It is not an advance directive itself. This addendum is designed for use with a Power for Attorney Healthcare document like the one found on this web page. We share in the Bishops’ reminder that vital conversations need to occur between loved ones and that no tool can replace that.


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