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Supporting Patients and Providers From a Distance

May 20, 2020 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

As healthcare workers at Yankton Medical Center learn to cope with the new realities of COVID-19, board certified palliative medicine specialist Amanda Sedlacek, DO, is stepping up efforts to support both them and their sickest patients. 

Dr. Sedlacek was featured on the cover of the April/May issue of MED Magazine, which went to print before the pandemic had impacted the South Dakota region. Since then, Dr. Sedlacek's work in patient and staff care has become even more relevant. She spoke with us again in late April to tell us about some of the changes. 

"Every visit I have now is a virtual visit," Sedlacek told MED. "This includes all of our palliative care patients, nursing home patients, everyone. At first, it was challenging. Even when things are normal, it is difficult to have some of these conversations. But to have to do it virtually is a definite change."

Sedlacek says some dying patients who would otherwise have distant family with them are having to navigate these strange waters on their own. In some cases, caregivers who were helping them can no longer come. 

"We are touching base with our palliative care patients weekly now, just trying to see what they need for support," she says. "Now, we are also having people asking more emotional questions instead of just informational. The whole dynamic has changed."

Those changing dynamics, coupled with the stress of changes in their personal lives, has also made this a challenging time for YMC clinic staff. 

To support them, Dr. Sedlacek is leading virtual in-service sessions on topics such as managing difficult conversations, dealing with emotional patients, delivering bad news remotely, embracing new traditions with their own families, taking better care of themselves, and living more mindfully.

"A lot of people have come by my office to say thanks," says Sedlacek. "I have had people say, 'I didn't really know how to manage this before. I haven't ever done self-care.' So they appreciate the ideas."

Dr. Sedlacek received training in self-care practices and group therapy during her Palliative & Hospice Medicine fellowship at Summa Health in Akron, Ohio. YMC staff who take part in these live training sessions work through a workbook and use things like journaling prompts to process complex emotions in a safe and supportive virtual space. 

"I do feel like we are doing a good job of supporting our clinic staff," says Dr. Sedlacek. "We play 'We Are Family' every day at 4:30 and we are finding new ways to help each other and maintain that connection, even though we have to stay six feet apart.".