Palliative Care & Advanced Planning Care Program

Feb 4, 2020, 12:17 PM by Nicole Young


While operating a busy internal medicine practice in Washington state, Dr. Deborah Meyers sometimes visited her seriously-ill, aging patients in their homes. Her hospice worker friends considered her a true colleague because of her calm temperament and the ease with which she cared for those facing the end of life. Her passion for these types of patients recently led her to Santa Barbara to direct Sansum Clinic’s new Palliative Care & Advance Care Planning Program.

The Ridley-Tree Cancer Center will be her home base since its staff cares for many of the oncology patients in the area however her team will also assist the large number of pulmonary, cardiology, nephrology, neurology and other patients within the community. Along with a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, a medical social worker, a nurse and a care coordinator, Dr. Meyers will connect with a patient’s primary care doctor, other specialists and care providers to address physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. The team will make sure patients understand their diagnoses and will help to create individualized plans to alleviate suffering and provide extra support.  “Very often, these patients are only seen in a very narrow realm by physicians. In palliative care, we invite patients to bring all of themselves, to paint the picture of what is going on with them,” explains Dr. Meyers.  The palliative care team members will aim to create a safe, inviting environment that feels much different than a traditional medical appointment. When patients can share how they are coping, if they have a support system, if they are able to fill and effectively use medications, if they are experiencing symptoms like pain, breathlessness or nausea, the palliative care team can gather people and resources to help. “Patients can really express what they are going through and they can ask questions. Everything is free-flowing and it allows us a depth that many other departments don’t get to reach into,” says Dr. Meyers.

Palliative care is a growing field now rooted in current medical research that confirms when patients choose it over routine care, they are more comfortable, less depressed, and often live longer. The decision to receive palliative care is also beneficial for patients since it often results in fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations as a result of better symptom management and more coordinated care with all members of the health care team aware of the patient’s health care goals and wishes.  Also, when a palliative care plan is involved, the length of time in hospice is greater and results in more support and services for patients and their families during the terminal stages of illness.  The Sansum Clinic team will help patients to clarify their healthcare goals and will work with them to document their wishes and preferences, including advance care planning and end-of-life goals, as their disease progresses. The palliative care team will also participate in regular care team meetings where they will discuss challenging cases, offering an expanded look at the patient’s illness and needs.  Patients will initially be seen at the cancer center, but the future intent is to see them around the Clinic, at home or in the hospital. “The desire is to make things as easy as possible for patients, especially when things become critical,” notes Dr. Meyers. When that moment arrives, she adds, the palliative care team can surround families with the care they need most.   “The time around a person’s death deserves as much respect, energy and support as the first part of life,” says Dr. Meyers.  
It takes great finesse and relationship building for physicians to share their most fragile patients with a palliative care team but Dr. Meyers brings years of knowledge and experience. She funded her University of Washington Medical School education through scholarships, work-study programs and a job as a phlebotomist during the height of the AIDS epidemic. She completed her internal medicine residency at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. As an internal medicine doctor in an outpatient practice, a hospitalist and a director of a local hospice organization, she broadened her view on the best methods to help patients and their families managing life-threatening disease.  She ultimately sought palliative care board certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the highest national standard for the specialty, and helped to found the Palliative Care Program at Everett Clinic, a physician-group with 30 sites across the Snohomish and King counties in Washington state. As a hospitalist, a palliative care provider and Associate Medical Director at Providence TrinityCare Hospice in the Los Angeles area, Dr. Meyers observed up close how continuity of care greatly benefits patients. While her education may be grounded in western medicine, she is a lifetime student of alternative methods to treat pain, reduce stress and provide healing, such as acupuncture and meditation.  She trained at Metta Institute, with one of the founders of Zen Hospice in San Francisco on meditation and other practices specifically geared to assist those nearing end-of-life. She is excited to refer cancer patients to the wide array of wellness programs at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center. “I keep my mind open because these things have true significance and I think we can continue to explore greatly in this field,” she confirms.
A cohesive and cooperative connection to other palliative care experts in the community was a priority for Dr. Meyers.  She knew Santa Barbara provided a local but also nationally-renowned hospice program but before she even considered the move, she needed a friendly, collaborative network of palliative care doctors who understood the deep commitment, involvement and intensity often associated with this kind of work.  “We look for our clan,” remarks Dr. Meyers. “It is crucial that we all work together. It is good for our patients.” She was thrilled to discover a group of palliative care physicians like Michael Kearney, MD with a history of dedication to palliative care who would not only welcome her arrival, but offer to cover her patients during any absence like a vacation or meeting attendance, so the type of specialized care they offer could continue. Philanthropic support for Sansum Clinic’s Palliative Care & Advance Planning Care Program allowed for the hiring of Dr. Meyers and for the program to take shape. Because of funding from major donors such as J.S. Bower Foundation, William Williams, Natalie Orfalea Foundation and Lou Buglioli, Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, Benjamin Wayne and Valerie Mizuhara, Warren and Mary Lynn Staley and Hollye and Jeff Jacobs, more patients in Santa Barbara will have improved quality of life when they need it most. “It speaks highly of this community, that we value this kind of care, support it and embrace it,” notes Dr. Meyers. “They have allowed us to launch something that many would think was just a dream, so I am very grateful.” 
To schedule an appointment with the Palliative Care Department, please call 805-879-0675