As an intensivist, Dr. Levetown noted three things: 1. a large proportion of critically ill kids were actually “chronically dying.” 2. families’ information about their child’s condition was incomplete or inaccurate and, feeding unrealistic hopes and influencing decisions based on outcomes that “were really not on the table.” And 3. family units were often overwhelmed by the child’s illness, too often leaving the family unit in varying levels of social, physical, mental, and emotion ruin.
Dr. Levetown described her early experience with palliative care and hospice, her involvement with several research projects on reforming the culture of death at the academic level, the history of pediatric palliative care as a field and some of the early challenges implementing palliative care in a hospital setting. T he profound gratitude of patients’ families whom she accompanied through the end of life was an important counterbalance to the experience of being shunned by colleagues, who had dubbed her “Doctor Death.”
Dr. Levetown identifies several persistent barriers to pediatric palliative care, including funding, professional acceptance, availability/capacity of clinicians, and burdens on patient-family, such as time, effort, transportation, and funds. Dr. Levetown then explains with her vision of expanding both physical and financial accessibility of pediatric palliative services, community integration of palliative services, and revitalizing explorations into the biopsychosocial life stages of children and adolescents that have life-limiting conditions.