People go through an often exhaustive process of preparing for birth — going to classes, making a birth plan — yet when it comes to death there is little planning and very little conversation, says Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan.
“We’re ignoring those conversations, and by ignoring them we’re leaving family and loved ones with no plan and no idea what we want at a very emotional and difficult time,” says Liz at the start of National Palliative Care Week May 22 to 28.
Palliative care isn’t the most popular topic. However it’s a subject most people will have to face at some point; either personally, or by the side of a loved one.
Driven by Palliative Care Australia the week aims to raise awareness about palliative care and to spark interest and conversation about what it offers to Australians.
PCA will highlight how palliative care can help people with chronic illnesses to live well. Four out of five deaths in Australia are caused by chronic illness, but there is a misconception that only cancer patients can access palliative care.
People with chronic illnesses often have more than one chronic illness which affects their health in different ways. Early access to palliative care can help them have a better quality of life.
Not-for-profit aged and disability services organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) has made high-quality palliative care a major priority within its 12 aged care residences.
“An important part of palliative care at VMCH is the implementation of advance care plans,” said VMCH General Manager Residential Services Geraldine Webster.
“These plans – completed when residents enter our care – identify residents’ future health care wishes, including spiritual customs and beliefs, before they become too unwell to communicate. We also frequently revisit the plans with residents, to ensure they’re up-to-date with their current wishes.”
VMCH’s Raise the Bar program, introduced in 2013, gives aged care staff the training and tools needed to better manage the clinical care of residents who are entering the end-of-life phase and avoid unnecessary hospital transfers.
Following the introduction of Raise the Bar at VMCH’s Corpus Christi aged care residence, hospital transfer rates dropped by more than 50 per cent.
“This way residents can remain in their homes, surrounded by their loved ones, rather than face the often traumatic process of moving to a hospital ward and perhaps passing away in an unfamiliar and clinical environment,” Geraldine said.
In addition to good clinical care, ensuring residents’ emotional and spiritual needs are met is an important part of palliative care at VMCH.
In 2013, VMCH’s Pastoral Care team introduced Palliative Care Kits across all aged care residences. The kits, including soothing music, candles, a water fountain, aromatherapy kit, essential oils and lip and body creams, aim to make the end-of-life process as comfortable as possible for residents and their families.
Music programs, including harp therapy, are also offered to help reduce stress and anxiety.
“Ultimately, we just want to ensure older people in our care are comfortable and treated with dignity and respect at the end of their life,” says Geraldine.