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Making Serious Illness a Serious Topic

Making Serious Illness a Serious Topic

Two people listening to an individual speak to them about a serious subject matter.

Contributed by Sue Collier.

It’s the last month of summer 2020, a summer few will forget. We are living through a pandemic. Adjusting to new ways of working. Re-educating ourselves on centuries-old practices that have bolstered structural racism across our nation – and world. Finding news way to care, to change, to communicate. These are serious times. Especially for someone with a serious illness.

So how do we draw attention to such an important topic, when so much of our attention is being placed on other priorities?

It is estimated that at least 12 million adults and 500,000 children in the US have a serious illness. Patients living with these illnesses face a high risk of mortality and require often need significant health care services, including hospitalization, medications, and at-home care or support. Everyday people with serious illnesses may not have access to the right care, at the right time, or in the right place, much less in a manner that syncs with their personal preferences.

Family sitting and speaking with a health professional or care professional in full attention.

And we also know that their caregivers are overwhelmed and often risk their own health in order to care for a person living with a potentially living-threatening condition.

And all this was happening before the pandemic! I would argue that the pandemic has made serious illness a serious topic, because we can now see what may have been “hidden” before to a lot of people. What more people see now is that serious illness can impact our personal care, our health care system, our communities, our economy, our daily lives – even if we may not have a serious illness ourselves!

Maybe now we fully appreciate how vulnerable we all are when serious illness strikes the already vulnerable and sick and the otherwise healthy individual.

“What can I do to help?” you may ask. “How can I ‘cut through the noise’ and see serious illness as a real priority?” Here’s a short list to get you started.

  • Read the NC Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Serious Illness Care Final Report, published in July 2020. Ask yourself: Which recommendation aligns with your current work? How do these priorities impact you and your communities?
  • Complete your advance care plans. Share your preferences with your loved ones. Here’s a link to help you get started: Mind My Health.
  • Volunteer to serve on a NCSI Coalition Work Group. Pick one that aligns with your interests and/or work focus. Educate yourself on what is happening in your state on this topic.
  • Invite your colleagues, friends, and community members to join the Coalition.
  • Talk with your legislators – ask them to help make it easier for every citizen in our state to develop, share, and maintain their advance care plans. Find resources on the NC Serious Illness Coalition website to help you with these conversations.

Add your ideas in the comments below. It’s not too late to pay attention. Especially when our attention is already focused on a top priority for all of us.

1 Hayes SL, Salzberg CA, McCarthy D, et al. High-need, high-cost patients: who are they and how do they use health care? A population-based comparison of demographics, health care use, and expenditures. Issue Brief (Commonwealth Fund). 2016;26:1-14.