Cardiac Program Provides Better Quality of Life, Control Over Care

Despite frequent doctor, ER and hospital visits for those with end-stage heart disease, many eligible patients don’t receive palliative or hospice care to improve their quality of life – but Emmanuel Hospice wants to change that.

Hospice professionals like Melissa Schmidt are working to help more patients with advanced congestive heart failure access the enhanced care they deserve.

“Even though heart disease is the nation’s top cause of death, hundreds of thousands of patients with heart failure die alone in hospitals, never utilizing end-of-life care and support,” says Schmidt, who serves as Emmanuel Hospice’s director of clinical services. “Hospice care can help manage or even prevent symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease and keep patients out of the hospital.

“This not only puts patients and families in better control over their care, it also saves money and reduces the stress of repeated hospitalizations.”

At Emmanuel, care is provided to patients wherever they call home. With the nonprofit’s Heart & Soul Advanced Cardiac Care Program, patients have access to a robust care team – nurses, physicians, spiritual caregivers and complementary therapists, all of whom are specially trained in heart failure and in collaborating with outside care providers.

Made possible through the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation, or NPHI, Heart & Soul relies on care guidelines developed by the American Heart Association for individuals living with end-stage heart disease.

“Our advanced cardiac care program enables patients to be cared for in a way that works alongside their diagnosis,” Schmidt explains. “We’re able to look at innovative ways to care for patients in collaboration with their cardiologists or other physicians to support the whole person – mind, body and soul.”

Among the unique ways Emmanuel Hospice can support people living with advanced cardiac disease are its complementary services, which can be used alongside pharmaceutical approaches or as alternatives for holistic end-of-life care. In particular, music and massage therapy have proven to be successful in the management of symptoms for Heart & Soul patients.

For example, Emmanuel Hospice’s music therapists aid in anxiety relief for patients living with heart disease through music-assisted relaxation to influence heart rate, enhance breathing and support management of stress.

The use of massage therapy can help reduce painful swelling of feet, ankles and legs that comes with end-stage heart disease. For one of Schmidt’s patients, this service helped avoid an increase in medication, enabling him to remain comfortably at home until his death.

The additional support and education hospice can provide is ideal for patients who wish to avoid repeated trips to the emergency room. According to NPHI, advanced cardiac care programs like Emmanuel’s have already helped lower hospitalization rates in the last year by 23% for patients during their last 30 days of life. Patients who are a part of these programs visit the ER nearly half as much as those not receiving hospice care.

“The decrease in emergency rates is remarkable because patients with heart failure are known to need frequent visits to the doctor’s office, emergency room and hospital due to breathing difficulties, fatigue and other worsening symptoms,” Schmidt says. “Reducing inpatient and emergency services reduces stress, which can improve both mental and physical health outcomes.”

Avoiding trips to the ER or hospital also helps save patients money. The average cost of care in NPHI advanced cardiac care programs is 20-35% lower for patients than those who aren’t in hospice care.

While this is promising data, Schmidt says there’s more work to be done in overcoming myths about hospice care and encouraging families and caregivers to reach out sooner to seek this invaluable service.

“Many people think that hospice is just for your last couple of days or weeks or that calling hospice means giving up,” she says. “Hospice is holistic care and support for people who have been given a physician prognosis of six months or less to live and want to maximize that time.

“We want to help these individuals and families know it is absolutely OK to utilize hospice to supplement other medical care that’s already being provided. Our entire team is trained and ready to walk alongside you with individualized care for your end-of-life journey.”

To learn more about Heart & Soul, individuals can visit or

call 616.719.0919.