I spent the first part of this summer working as an Upstate Institute Field School Fellow at Hudson Headwaters Health Network in Queensbury. Hudson Headwaters is a nonprofit organization made up of 17 (soon to be 18!) federally qualified health centers in the Adirondack region. The Adirondacks are medically underserved, as there are few primary care providers for an aging population, and Hudson Headwaters provides a majority of the care for the large region it encompasses. With this in mind, Hudson Headwaters’ mission is to provide excellent, comprehensive healthcare and access to health services to everyone who needs it. Doctors in the Hudson Headwaters Health Network provide primary care with specialty services to people of all ages and had upwards of 391,000 patient visits throughout their network in 2017.
As an organization, Hudson Headwaters is attuned to the overall needs of the rural population it serves, as well as the specific needs that vary by community. Hudson Headwaters puts a great deal of emphasis on population based health, where preventative practices and health promotion are essential. In more recent years, those working in population health have grown to appreciate the value of palliative care; Hudson Headwaters recognizes its importance and is a principle palliative care provider in the Adirondack area. Palliative care is holistic care that prioritizes maximizing quality of life for patients with a serious chronic illness, and for their families. Support is team-based and holistic: it includes managing symptoms that cause a patient distress, like pain, nausea, and anxiety; engaging in important conversations regarding care, and working with patients’ families to ensure open communication and planning. Patient and family satisfaction is the driving force behind palliative care services, so my purpose this summer has been to provide Hudson Headwaters with some of the tools and materials they need to assess and highlight the value of palliative care services.
On a broad scale, palliative care has been shown to increase patient satisfaction and comfort and decrease costs of care by avoiding unnecessary hospital and emergency room utilization, making it an invaluable part of healthcare delivery. Hudson Headwaters has offered this as a part of their care programs for years, but they have not yet assessed its success. In order to address this, I have collaborated with many members of the palliative care team, as well as Professor Chris Henke at Colgate, to create a survey to effectively gauge patient and family satisfaction. Results from this survey will help demonstrate the value of palliative care services and provide feedback for improvement. Since patient comfort is what palliative care is all about, this first hand feedback will give Hudson Headwaters a lot of information with which to work!
I graduated this May with a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Colgate, and I am pursuing a career in public health. A huge portion of public health work is taking existing programs and personalizing them to fit the needs of a specific organization, and Hudson Headwaters is doing exactly that with their palliative care program. A majority of palliative care work and research is conducted in an inpatient hospital setting, but much of Hudson Headwaters’ palliative care is done through outpatient consultations and in nursing homes. The uniqueness of their program helps to meet the demands of the specific population it serves, but it is important to concretely gauge any program’s success to determine its value and make improvements. My position this summer has given me first hand experience with this! It is my first year as a Field School Fellow, but I was able to work with Hudson Headwaters throughout my senior year at Colgate with Professor Ellen Kraly and other students within the Geography department. Because the majority of that work was done outside the office, this Fellowship has been an awesome opportunity to work with Hudson Headwaters in a different, closer capacity. It’s been exciting to see how community-based research relates directly to population based health practices. Hudson Headwaters is committed to providing exceptional healthcare that meets the needs of the Adirondack communities they serve, and community-based research like the satisfaction survey directly identifies those needs.