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Kluge Gift to Foster Compassion in End-of-Life Care

November 19, 2009 — For many patients nearing the end of their lives, the experience brings profound moments of self-reflection and, too often, unnecessary pain. Doctors and nurses caring for these patients need to know how to provide compassionate support during this challenging time.

A recent $3 million gift from Tussi and John Kluge of Albemarle County will help the University of Virginia Health System better prepare caregivers to support their patients through complex, end-of-life issues. The gift supports two professorships – with $2 million establishing a new endowed professorship in the School of Nursing and $1 million supplementing a current professorship in the School of Medicine.

These professorships will provide instructional resources to assist students in building the knowledge, skills, attitudes and resilience needed to address end-of-life issues with patients and their families.

"This initiative is an essential step toward reclaiming the heart of health care," Tussi Kluge said. "Through the collaboration of nursing and medicine, dying people will receive mindful, compassionate care and clinicians will receive support to keep alive their calling to service."

School of Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine said this gift builds upon a long history of support for the University from the Kluges. It also reflects John Kluge's interest in palliative and in-home health care and Tussi Kluge's growing relationship with the Nursing School, where she has worked with faculty to foster a program to help nurses physically and mentally meet the demands of their jobs. She has opened her home to nursing faculty and student retreats.

"The programs supported through these professorships answer a real need for improving clinicians' ability to help patients at the end of life and expand on some important new efforts already under way," Fontaine said. "The Kluge Compassionate Lecture Series is co-sponsored by the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and brings leading experts to share their wisdom with our students."

Dr. Daniel Becker, professor and director of U.Va.'s Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, knows firsthand that nursing and medical students need special training to understand how to support their patients' physical and psychological needs at the end of life. For more than 10 years, Becker has been visiting patients in their homes on a weekly basis, bringing nursing students, medical students and medical residents with him on his calls.

The Tussi and John Kluge Professorship in Palliative Care that Becker holds is the result of an earlier gift from the Kluges. Both the medical and nursing professorships reflect an increasing recognition of the value of palliative care, as well as the importance of collaboration between doctors and nurses in caring for all patients.

"Tussi and John Kluge have a vision for compassionate end-of-life care that inspires me as well as the talented and devoted team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains and therapists who comfort the dying wherever they seek care," Becker said. "The Kluge gift will support home visits, palliative care teaching and inter-professional programs that address caregiver fatigue and the limits of compassion."

Fontaine said the funding will support the integration of compassionate, contemplative care into clinical practice, education, research and policy.

"A major focus will be teaching and learning in inter-professional formats with faculty and students from Nursing, Medicine and other schools across the University," Fontaine said. "We expect the Tussi and John Kluge Professorship in Contemplative End-of-Life Care to bring about changes in care across the lifespan and throughout U.Va. and the Health System."

"The schools of Medicine and Nursing are deeply grateful for the generous support we have continually received from the Kluges," said Dr. Steven T. DeKosky, vice president and dean of the School of Medicine. "Their interest in furthering end-of-life care education for students and residents and support services for providers is important to ensure patients and their families can live their last days in comfort and on their own terms."

This gift builds on a legacy of giving at U.Va. by the Kluges. John Kluge and the John W. Kluge Foundation have given to the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center and the John W. Kluge Professorship in Urology, among others. He has also provided substantial support for the U.Va. mindfulness-based stress reduction program, in which Tussi Kluge is actively involved.

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