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When She Could No Longer Smile Through The Pain, Ruth Egan Got Help From an OACIS Palliative Medicine Expert


Typically, 89-year-old Ruth Egan is spunky enough to make light of her daily pain. But one day her daughter, Patricia, visited her at Phoebe Ministries’ assisted living facility – and immediately got scared.

“She said she felt like she was dying, and that’s not like her,” Patricia says. “My mom has been managing a spinal condition and an inoperable hernia for some time. Her primary care doctor at Phoebe is a good physician, yet my mom needed an additional resource. Luckily for us, I work at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), and I knew of a place we could get help.”

Patricia, a physician liaison at LVHN, turned to the network’s OACIS (Optimizing Advanced Complex Illness Support) Palliative Medicine program, which assists patients and their families with the physical and emotional challenges of advanced complex illnesses. The OACIS team includes doctors, advanced practice nurses and social workers.

“Ruth’s case is pretty typical for us,” says Michele Naugle, CRNP, who works with OACIS’ home-based consult program. “We gather as much information as we can from providers and family members so we’re prepared for our first visit to a patient’s home or facility.” At that first 90-minutes visit, Naugle talks with and observes the patient, looking for ways to make things better. She also performs a physical exam and medication review.

A listening ear

When Naugle met Ruth, she arranged to get her an abdominal support belt to ease the pain caused by her hernia. She also asked for side rails for Ruth’s bed to assist her in getting out of it.

“These are things a family member or guardian would never think of,” Patricia says. “Managing my mom’s pain also enhanced her quality of life. I knew her pain would keep her in bed and away from social interaction, and that’s not my mom. Michele not only helps with her pain, but encourages her to be active. She’s made such a difference.”

How OACIS works

OACIS, with its three service branches of an inpatient service, a home-based consult service and an outpatient clinic, is different from hospice (end-of-life) care. Palliative medicine provides support and aims to reduce suffering during serious illness of any kind, be it temporary or life-limiting. Most OACIS patients face life-limiting advanced complex illness with a life expectancy of about 1-3 years. However, some patients have been on service for 5 years or more.

“We offer physical, emotional and spiritual support, administrative help, whatever is necessary,” Naugle says. She can prescribe medications, yet “we work with the patient’s primary care physician and other caregivers,” she says. “Our most important job is to listen to a patient and family who are facing some challenges.”

Naugle, who began her career working in health units for the Peace Corps in West Africa, originally trained as a pediatric nurse. She then spent 14 years in hospice nursing before moving to palliative medicine, a field that is growing nationally. “My career path has taught me compassion and patience,” she says. “It’s very rewarding for us at OACIS to help patients and families through a difficult time.”

The Egans also feel a reward. “Before Michele came, my mom wasn’t sure she’d ever get out of bed again,” Patricia says. “Now she’s well enough to enjoy bingo and go on day trips. OACIS is a wonderful service, and I think every family like ours would be just as thankful if they looked into it.”

Next Step

Learn more about OACIS palliative care services.