Palliative care aims to help those who are living with, or dying from, any life-threatening illness. Traditionally it was mostly available to those with a cancer diagnosis. Only 25 pre cent of us die from cancer. A large segment of palliative care patients is now comprised of those suffering from end-stage heart disease, end-stage renal disease, end-stage lung disease (COPD), multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) among other life-limiting illnesses.
Palliative Care in PIctou County was initially championed by a community group in the 1980s. They realized the need for support of those who were dying in the community to help them die with dignity and be comfortable. The Aberdeen Palliative Care Society was thus formed under the guidance of Dr. Winston Makhan, Sue Stewart and other like-minded, caring individuals.
The Society has been at the forefront of palliative care in the community since then, providing many additional services above those provided by the province. The Society is funded by donations and bequests and through fundraising.
Once the palliative care service was established in the community we realized the need for a dedicated Palliative Care Unit in the hospital to ensure seamless care. We were very fortunate to have a progressive health board and senior management, who, along with a very generous foundation and amazing community corporate support, enabled the dream to become a reality in 2006 when the Palliative Care Unit was opened. Since then it has been recognized on both the provincial and federal levels as providing exemplary care to the residents of our county.
Unfortunately, only 30 per cent of Canadians have access to quality palliative care, which undermines the great need to establish services across the country. There has been an increased awareness of the benefits of this aspect of care over the past few years and we are seeing more support from the funding agencies. Still a lot of work needs to be done.
Fortunately, in Pictou County we have a very robust program under the leadership of its medical director, Dr. Ania Kwasnik. She is supported by a very capable interdisciplinary team in the community along with a dedicated team of nurses in the hospital.
As the program grows there is increasing need to also increase staff to maintain quality care.
In comparison to other medical services, palliative care is the least expensive to provide because of it not depending on a lot of the expensive high-tech modalities needed in other disciplines of modern-day medicine.
What about the future of palliative care in our county?
A community hospice would be a natural growth objective for this program. There are always patients in the hospital who, unfortunately for various reasons, cannot be cared for at home and don’t necessarily need to be in hospital. These are the ones who would benefit from a hospice in the community. Hopefully some interested groups or individuals in the community will champion this cause and make it happen.
Meanwhile, the palliative care team is enormously grateful to the community for all its support over the years and continuing support.
Gerry Farrell of Pictou is a retired palliative care physician.