College of Nursing efforts lead to palliative care education, empowerment of Romanian counterparts

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 31, 2011 – Katherine Paquette did not understand the words being spoken as the Romanian nurse hugged family members of the terminally ill patient. She didn’t need to. Paquette knew the nurse was providing the best support possible.

The nurse cared.

Paquette was part of a University of Rhode Island contingent from the College of Nursing working with counterparts in Romania. While visiting the country as part of the first-ever American-Romanian symposium on end of life care, Paquette went on house visits with Romanian nurses to see how care was handled.

“Even though there were language barriers, I was struck by the universal language of caring,” said Paquette, one of 11 nurses from URI and Simmons College who spent time in Romania this summer. “I may not have understood the words being said, but I could understand the reactions of the family members who were receiving care.”

Despite being a country in which more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, the palliative care in Romania is strong. Much of that is due to the efforts of URI Assistant Clinical Professor Diane Gerzevitz, who has been working with professionals in Romania for more than a decade.

Gerzevitz joined the board of directors of the United Kingdom-based organization Hospices of Hope in 2002. Founded by Graham Perolls in 1975, Hospices of Hope is dedicated to providing quality of life for terminally ill patients and their families in Romania and other Balkan countries.

Through the organization, Gerzevitz connected with hospices in Romania for the purposes of educating professionals. For several years, she and others from URI conducted periodic educational teleconferences. Realizing that a big key to nursing care was personal contact, the URI nurses also made a couple trips to Romania over the years to meet in person with their colleagues on the other side of the world.

In June, the group took it to a new level, as Gerzevitz, Paquette, Associate Professor of Nursing Ginette Ferszt, retired nursing Professor Emeritus Jean Miller, College of Pharmacy Associate Clinical Professor Margaret Charpentier and Rev. Patricia Liberty from the Kingston Congregational Church joined with colleagues from Simmons – including URI alumnae Julie Vosit-Steller and Allison Morse – to run the first-ever American-Romanian symposium for palliative care.

For four days – two days each in Bucharest and Brasov, the group educated more than 100 nurses, physicians and psychologists in a wide range of topics, including symptom assessment, neurological issues, spirituality, bereavement, teaching techniques and more.

Among the goals through the years has been to empower the professionals in Romania. One of the major accomplishments of the New England Alliance of Hospices of Hope has been financing travel opportunities for Nicoleta Mitrea, Romania’s palliative care educator. Thanks to fundraising efforts by the group from URI and Simmons College, Mitrea has attended the prestigious Inter-disciplinary Palliative Care Course at Harvard, as well as international conferences in Greece and Serbia.

While at Harvard, Mitrea wrote a palliative care module that has been published and implemented as part of the nursing curriculum at the University of Transylvania and the Carol Davila School of Nursing, and she is recognized as the foremost expert in palliative care nursing in the Balkan nations.

“The professionals, especially Nicoleta, knew what they were doing,” Gerzevitz said. “They wanted validation. They provide incredible palliative care despite limited resources, but they were looking for mentors. Now, they are the ones mentoring others.”

The plan is to turn the symposium into a regular event every other year. The work leading up to and including the inaugural gathering has certainly caught the eye of high-ranking officials.

While in Romania, the American nurses were honored during a reception at the American Embassy. American Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, his wife Libby and Perolls, the founder of Hospices of Hope, were all on hand. Libby Gitenstein has worked closely with nurses in Bucharest, so the issue was one close to her heart.

“They were really celebrating the relationship that has grown between the U.S. and Romanian nurses,” Ferszt said. “The experience was a complete success and will only help grow more opportunities.”

Pictured above

American Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, his wife Libby met with University of Rhode Island nurses this summer while they were in Romania to run the first-ever American-Romanian symposium on end of life care. Photo courtesy of Katherine Paquette