Journey to Medicine and Suncoast Hospice
Suncoast Hospice Physician Janet Keating, MD was raised in Kansas City, MO, where home was the heart and center of care.
“I grew up with parents who were one generation off the farm. You took care of your family at home. My grandfather had Parkinson’s disease and another family member had a stroke, and they were at home and taken care of by family. That’s probably why I went to medical school,” Keating shared.
Keating earned bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and medical technology and went to work as a medical technologist in hospital labs for six years. In her late 20’s, she went to medical school and found her passion for patient care.
“I was interested in pathology and hematology. Then I went to medical school and I fell in love with patients,” she said.
End-of-life care became her niche during her residency at Duke University in North Carolina.
“I found that I had a lot of comfort helping take care of palliative and end-of-life patients. I was comfortable having those discussions about the arc of birth and death because that is what I grew up with. When I was in private practice, I would make home visits for patients if they couldn’t get in to see me. I really like being able to help people be comforted and supported at the end of their life at home,” she noted.
Keating spent nine years working at the Murdoch Developmental Center state facility in North Carolina. The center provides housing and clinical treatment for people with mental disabilities, complex behavioral challenges and/or medical conditions that can’t be supported in the community.
She shared, “That was their home and they were very much treated like family. It was so wonderfully run and they were so well cared for.”
Later, she had her sight set on Suncoast Hospice and applied. She came on board in April 2016.
“My spouse grew up in Pinellas County so we had lots of family here. My mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s and was taken care of by Suncoast Hospice about 11 years ago. I was so impressed with the care they provided,” she said.
Caring for Patients
Visiting patients in their homes is especially gratifying for her.
“I’ve always liked home visits. I enjoy working with the home teams because I like the continuity. I’ve gotten a chance to know the patients and families a little bit better. When I worked with family medicine residents at USF (University of South Florida), I always shared how you can learn more about a patient and family in a home visit than in five hours in an office because you are where they live and can see what they need,” Keating explained.
She focuses on fostering physical and emotional comfort for patients and families.
“My goal for patients is for them to be able to move from this life to whatever comes next. I have no particular opinion on that. I think the thing people fear so much about death is they don’t know what’s going to happen in the process of that transition. I want my patients to feel support and safety and family members to be supported, too. It’s not just comforting pain, it’s that they can relax and not worry about the details of how this is all going to work,” she noted.
The teams share information, resources and solutions to provide the best care.
“I love my teams. I don’t look at myself as the physician in charge, I look at myself as part of the team. A good hospice doctor has a good hospice team. We discuss ideas that might be useful to make patients more comfortable for this time in their life and to help their families. It’s about putting patients and families first, getting an idea of what they need, recognizing the resources that are available and trying to meet those needs at a very difficult time,” Keating shared.
She appreciates the care of all the staff.
“I recognize the value that our different disciplines bring. I love the pharmacy folks and nurses. Our home health aides are awesome – all of the ones I have worked with are patient, personable and amazing and want to go in and help. The physical therapists and the integrative medicine program are wonderful,” she noted.
She also values the support of volunteers.
She added, “We have a volunteer program that contributes so much to what we do. Our teen volunteers are amazing. We also have volunteers who do Reiki, sit with patients and talk with families about their own experiences – they know what people are going through and they want to help. My idea for the worse death possible is to be hooked up to a machine with no human being in sight. I never want to see anybody die that way.”
Good Time for Hospice
Still today, many people choose to access hospice care in the final weeks or days of life.
“Hospice is very much underutilized in situations that can really be beneficial for the patients. There’s a perception that you are giving up if you don’t do things (interventions) to the very end, even if you are 103 years old. I feel that’s a disservice to just about everybody,” she noted.
Keating encourages looking into hospice care early after a life-limiting illness diagnosis.
“People should consider hospice when they are told they have a life-limiting condition and it’s clear that, in spite of reasonable interventions, they are going to continue to decline. Particularly for the older population, physicians have to look at what are the expectations of tests or surgeries. Are they looking at what’s going to make people feel better? Are they looking at quality of life, rather than quantity? Research has shown that if you focus more on quality of life and comfort than length of life and treatment, people actually do live longer and they rate their quality of life better,” she said.
She reminds that other Empath Health programs may help people, too.
“People may not be ready for hospice because they may have more than six months or a few years left living with an illness. Besides Suncoast Hospice, we have Empath Health Palliative Care and Suncoast PACE. We have a lot more we can do to support people,” she added.
Here for You
If you need care and support for you or your loved one, please contact us online or call us at (727) 467-7423.