“The most valuable tool a doctor can have is a good pair of ears,” said Dr Glen Komatsu. Dr Komatsu is the chief medical officer for Providence TrinityCare Hospice, and medical director of Providence’s TrinityKids Care, which is the only children’s hospice program in Los Angeles and Orange County. Dr Komatsu strongly believes that doctors need to do a better job at asking questions and listening to the patient and families responses, he said “Sometimes, we in medicine just keep doing stuff to people. We have all of these machines, all of these bells and whistles, and we use them without asking, ‘is this helpful? Is this worth it to you?’”
Dr Komatsu’s was previously medical director at the neonatal intensive care unit at Torrance’s Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center from 1985 to 2004, when he experienced a ‘midlife crisis’ and decided to make a change. He felt that the work had become detached from the actual needs of the patient, and the work he had dedicated a larger part of his life to no longer seemed gratifying. He explained, “It did not always seem that my colleagues were always very concerned about the pain and suffering of babies. We would put them through all of these procedures, only to have them die from complications or chronic illness months later.”
Dr Komatsu’s outlook and deep concern for how patients actually felt and a willingness to respect their wishes led him into the field of palliative care, specifically children’s palliative care. He said, “Children have really always been at the centre of my practice. It’s a population of people who are very vulnerable and are underserved in the total scheme of our healthcare system.”
As the only paediatric hospice program in the region, TrinityKids Care is overwhelmed with requests for assistance. A clause called the Obamacare, allows children on Medicaid to receive curative treatment and hospice care simultaneously. This concurrent care allows children to be in their homes for hospice whilst occasionally heading to the hospital to receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This law has drastically increased the number of children in the TrinityKids program. TrinityKids is currently the largest children’s hospice program in the country, there are currently 70 children at the hospice and another 40 who are receiving palliative care but who have not yet entered their last six months of life. TrinityKids has no age limit and provides care from newborns right up to young people in their 20’s and 30’s. The care provided is a group effort, it is provided by a multidisciplinary team made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides and volunteers.
Dr Komatsu is deeply devoted to his work, he said “The best kept secret in hospice is that we get more out of the work than we give. To see the strength of the children, to see the resilience of their parents… We hope that we can be as brave as them when we have to face the end of our lives. It gives us inspiration to do our best work.” To read this article, click here.