At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many sick patients were unable to see their loved ones in-person. During that trying time, it put even more of an emphasis on the importance of palliative care, a type of specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses that focuses on providing relief and comfort from the symptoms and stress of those illnesses.
In keeping with that importance, Molloy College will host its 12th Palliative Care Conference -— one of the largest in the country with hundreds of people expected to attend — on its campus and virtually on June 3 after a two-year absence during the pandemic. The conference was founded in 2008, and each year it offers participants new tools to provide professional, competent and compassionate care to patients and their families.
“Typically, the conference offers topics that help the professionals deal with death and dying,” said Lou Cino, the dean of continuing education and professional studies at Molloy and a conference committee member, “not only for the patient, but for their families as well, and that can mean helping them physically, mentally or emotionally.”
Palliative care has grown over the last two decades, Cino said. Graduates in a variety of professions, he added, rely on conferences such as these for professional development on the subject. At the event, experts from medicine, nursing, pastoral care, child life and social work will present the latest advancements in the fields of symptom management, ethics and communication, staff self-care and bereavement during the nearly eight-hour conference. The event will feature lectures and therapy demonstrations.
Cino said the conference is important because it brings medical professionals and experts together to create a dialogue about the best palliative care practices.
“They’re health care professionals that served on the frontlines of the pandemic for the past two years,” he said. “It takes a special kind of person to do this work.”
This year, the conference was renamed the Edith Richner Palliative Care Conference, in memory of the Herald Community Newspapers’ cofounder, and late mother of publishers Stuart and Cliff Richner. She was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder in 2006, and through palliative care, her last days were made more peaceful.
“It’s wonderful and we’re so happy and excited that the conference is being named after Edith,” said Lori Hardoon, a social worker and one of the event’s organizers since its inception. “Many people in the world of palliative care are women, and we have some powerhouse women that are a part of it. She was an amazing woman, a powerhouse and a leader.”
When Edith was ill, Hardoon worked closely with her family and helped them navigate the health care system. Hardoon, a licensed clinical social worker and the senior director for palliative care supportive services at JASA, an agency that serves older adults in New York City, said that the conference has grown larger over the years and now participants even come from other states.
The keynote speaker at the event will be Dr. Russell Portenoy, the executive director of the Manhattan-based MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care, a highly regarded voice in the field.
Cino said that just a few years ago, there wasn’t as big of an emphasis on palliative care as there has been in recent years. He noted that most hospitals now have a unit dedicated to palliative care, a need magnified by Covid.
“One of the horrible things about the pandemic is that you didn’t have the ability for the patients to be with their families,” he said. “These health care professionals were the last people they saw. They didn’t see their family, they didn’t see their friends and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”
Hardoon said she was excited that the conference could reach a borader audience.
“The beauty, for me, is I get to be there from the beginning of planning,” she said, “so I get the inside view of the plans behind each year. Each year, it gets better and better and the magnitude of it takes my breath away.”
The conference is slated for June 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration takes place at the Madison Theatre’s public square. Zoom links and more information on how to attend are available at molloy.edu/ce/pcc.