Eastern Michigan University professor named one of 12 national leaders in palliative care

Stephanie Wladkowski chosen as Sojourns Scholar by Cambia Health Foundation to do further research on needs of patients and primary caregivers during post-hospice care

Stephanie Wladkowski
Stephanie Wladkowski

YPSILANTI Stephanie Wladkowski, a professor of social work at Eastern Michigan University, has been chosen as a Sojourns®Scholar, one of 12 emerging palliative care leaders in the United States.

The scholars program is administered by the Cambia Health Foundation and is designed to identify and advance the next generation of palliative care leaders. Each scholar receives $180,000 in funding ($90,000/year over a two-year period) to conduct an innovative and impactful project in the field of palliative care.

Scholars also participate with other scholars in a collaborative learning community while receiving individual mentorship to design and implement a development plan that supports their growth as national palliative care leaders. 

Building on significant previous work

Wladkowski’s project will build her previous work on hospice care. In 2020, she received a $427,276 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the needs of patients’ post-hospice discharge and how patients and their caregivers attempt to meet those needs

Peggy Maguire, president and board chair, Cambia Health Foundation, said that COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of and magnified the need for palliative care services.

“Our goal in supporting the innovative projects and personal development of this elite group of palliative care professionals is to ensure that ALL people impacted by COVID-19 and other illnesses receive personalized care that is aligned to their wishes,” Maguire said.

Wladkowski says she will use the funding to develop a live discharge protocol (LDP) for hospice social workers to guide their assessment of the specific service and psychosocial needs for the patient and primary caregiver during post-hospice care.

Supporting patients, caregivers after hospice discharge

“Currently, hospice practitioners must prepare patients and their caregivers upon enrollment for the possibility of a live discharge due to ineligibility or their right to disenroll, yet, there is no explicit protocol available to support both the patient and caregiver at the time of live discharge,” Wladkowski says.

“The proposed study has three goals. First, I will develop the LDP with an advisory committee of end-of-life care experts. Next, the LDP will be implemented by hospice social workers, and then I will evaluate the usability of the LDP by hospice social workers and the experience for the patient and/or the caregiver.”

Wladlkowski comes by such research naturally, having spent most of her career as a clinical social worker providing palliative care to terminally ill patients and their families who chose hospice services, an “experience that has guided my work as a palliative care researcher.”

Christine Karshin, Associate Dean in the College of Health and Human Services, where Wladkowski teaches, noted her understanding about the partnerships needed in palliative care.

 “Working in end-of-life care is all about collaboration,” Karshin said. “Therefore, Stephanie’s clinical experience has also guided her as an Interprofessional Education (IPE) Scholar in the College of Health and Human Services. She teaches students about the importance of working collaboratively with other health care team members to improve the care of her patients. This project is no different.”

“These patients discharged alive were still dying”

Wladkowski says that a key challenge she encountered while working with her hospice patients and their families was a policy change in Medicare regulations that required patients no longer meeting Medicare hospice criteria due to stabilization of their condition (most often these are persons with chronic illnesses) to be discharged from hospice care.

“This policy change had a profound impact on both the patient and the primary caregiver, who lost assistance with the patient’s personal care needs, respite, and access to medical equipment, as well as the psychosocial and spiritual support from a social worker and chaplain necessary for dealing with the dying process and pending death,” Wladkowski says. “These patients discharged alive were still dying and the caregivers still needed support.”

Since the program’s inception in 2014, the Foundation’s purposeful investment in palliative care leadership has awarded more than $13 million to 74 scholars around the country. Scholars represent different areas of the palliative care team, including physicians, nurses, chaplains, pharmacists and social workers, but all are committed to improving the experience of people facing serious illness and their caregivers. 

EMU provides strong support for research

Wladkowski‘s work has been supported through six internal research awards at EMU to advance work on live discharge, including the Provost’s New Faculty Award, Faculty Research Fellowship, and Summer Research/Creative Activity awards.

She also obtained professional development funding at EMU for her hospice research, including from GameAbove Faculty Professional Development and Innovation Fund (2020) and the James H. Brickley Endowment for Faculty Professional Development and Innovation (2018).

She also participated in the Culture of Research Excellence (CoRE) fellowship through the EMU Office of Research Development and Administration, which she says was instrumental in her successful grant proposals.

In 2019 she received the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network’s Emerging Leader Award, and an Everett L. Marshall Award for Scholarly Excellence.

Now comes further professional development. 

“The opportunities offered through the Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program will provide me with invaluable support, mentoring, and visibility for my emerging palliative care research career,” Wladkowski said.

About Cambia Health Foundation 
Cambia Health Foundation is the corporate foundation of Cambia Health Solutions, a total health solutions company dedicated to making health care more person-focused and economically sustainable. Founded in 2007, the foundation has funded almost $78 million in grants to advance patient- and family-centered care for all. Cambia Health Foundation strategically invests in philanthropy to change the way people experience health care from birth to natural completion of life.  Learn more at the foundation’s website and you follow it on Twitter: @CambiaHealthFdn.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

January 27, 2021

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Media Contact:
Geoff Larcom