Meet My Loved One: Making palliative connections in times of isolation

A program inspired by a doctor who lost her father during the coronavirus pandemic is now being used to help patients who cannot be with loved ones in the hospital.
Written by: Carolyn Walsh
Media contact: Holly Gainer

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

MeetMy3Susan Harding, M.D., and her father, Darrell, before he passed away on April 3. Credit: Susan Harding, M.D.In early March, as many of the nation’s physicians were consumed by a public health care crisis, Susan Harding, M.D., a pulmonologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was dealing with one that was much more personal. Her beloved father, Darrel, a stoic 92-year-old army colonel, was slowly succumbing to advanced lung disease. 

“Dad moved here (to Birmingham) after my mom passed,” Harding said. “My husband, who is also a physician, and I took care of him at home. I knew that we needed help making a decision about hospice, and I reached out to Dr. Tucker for advice.”

Rodney Tucker, M.D., director of the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care at UAB, visited the Harding family at home. They agreed it was time for her to stop being Darrel’s caregiver and step back into the role of daughter. Darrel was admitted to St. Martin in the Pines skilled nursing facility, where Harding expected to be able to visit frequently and reassure her father with her presence and care.

Then the world turned upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified, and visitors were no longer allowed, to minimize the risk of spreading the infection. 

“My dad always had his family around him,” Harding said. “I was devastated. There was no other access, no way to drive by. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want him to feel deserted.”

So Harding did the next best thing. On Tucker’s advice, she wrote down all the little personal details she would have told the nurses and staff as if she were there in person. The fact that he liked to watch “Animal Planet.” His love of ice cream, and his distaste for rice. His preference for cold drinks that felt better when he swallowed. And that no one needed to make him wear his oxygen if the canula made him uncomfortable. She emailed it to her dad’s social worker and asked that it be taped on the wall.

The effort, and the health care team’s response, brought her some peace of mind.

“It’s the little things that mean so much,” Harding said. 

Darrel passed away peacefully April 3, and his story inspired Tucker to discuss with his palliative care team how knowing details like this could help other patients in isolation. He worked with Sylvia Huang, Ph.D., a psychologist with UAB’s Palliative Psychology and Counseling Services, and others to develop a form called Meet My Loved One. It is a simple list of preferences that communicates to the health care team, enabling them to provide personalized care. The form is now being used for patients on the Palliative and Comfort Care Unit at UAB.

Tucker often describes his specialty as “an extra layer of compassion.” Never has this palliative approach been more important. Our need for human connection, to know and be known, is a determinant of our health outcomes, Tucker says. In isolation, this new instrument can provide the link to care that comforts hearts and minds when the physical touch of a loved one is not an option.

“I’m grateful to know that this tool is helping others,” Harding said. “It’s something my dad would have appreciated a lot. And I look forward to seeing this expand to other means of care outside end-of-life.”

To learn more about the Meet My Loved One program, visit the COVID-19 Resources page on the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care website. For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit