Empowering staff to deliver quality palliative care

Education is key to build staff confidence in providing palliative and end-of-life care.

Employees at South Australian aged care and retirement living provider Resthaven have been taking part in a palliative care workshop. Facilitated by Karen Gregory – a palliative care advanced practice nurse – and Claire Tan – a palliative care clinical nurse – the workshop has been designed to support staff to provide comprehensive, holistic services to Resthaven residents.

“Palliative Care Australia advocates that palliative care is core business in aged care,” Ms Gregory said. “Resthaven strongly supports ongoing education and training to build staff capacity and confidence in providing palliative and end-of-life care.”

Claire Tan and Karen Gregory presenting at Resthaven’s palliative care workshop

Using the occasion of National Palliative Care Week – held from 19 May to 25 May to deepen people’s understanding of palliative care – Ms Gregory wants people to know that palliative care is far more than looking after individuals during the final days of their life. Indeed, people may receive palliative care for months or even several years. “Good palliative care can improve a person’s comfort and enjoyment of life,” she said. “We often see residents and clients who experience a whole new quality of life thanks to palliative care.”

Palliative care provides relief from not only physical symptoms of a life-limiting condition but it also addresses a person’s psychological and spiritual needs as well. “Good palliative care helps to frame dying as a normal process,” Ms Gregory said. “Palliative care does not try to hasten or postpone death. We offer a support system to help people live as well as possible, up until their death.”

She added: “National Palliative Care Week is a great chance to highlight the important work aged care providers do in caring for older people at the end of their lives.”

Victoria-based aged care and disability services provider VMCH also offers palliative care to its residents. Its chief executive officer Sonya Smart recently returned from an exploratory trip to Singapore where she visited a number of palliative care services. One such service – Oasis@Outram, a day hospice – was a standout she said.

“It was an eye-opening experience. Oasis is about ensuring that you keep having memorable moments and that you’re not isolated at home. People are empowered to grow and develop new skills.”

Sonya Smart (second right) and VMCH chair Julian O’Connell (fourth right)

Ms Smart said the hospice’s approach to palliative care focuses on living rather than dying. Her visit has inspired her to consider a new type of palliative care service for VMCH residents. One that allows “greater choice and ensures people’s last experiences are filled with joy and shared special moments with family and friends.”

Mel Wagner is chief clinician at Queensland-based aged care provider Lutheran Services. She said National Palliative Care Week is a great opportunity to encourage end-of-life planning. “Not everyone wants to talk about their own death, but I stress the importance of having an advance care directive or a statement of choice, or both.”

Melanie Wagner

An advance care directive is a legal document signed by a doctor, solicitor or JP, while a statement of choice is a non-legally binding document that guides future healthcare decisions. “This paperwork ensures your family and healthcare workers know your wishes and can provide that extra special care you desire,” Ms Wagner said.

Ms Wagner promotes a “community of care” at the end of life. “We encourage and respect family wishes, allowing them to be as involved as they would like to be,” she said. “We aim to make it a positive experience for all involved, caring for everyone’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.”

An opportunity to open minds to the profound human spirit that drives palliative care

Palliative Care Australia CEO Camilla Rowland

National Palliative Care Week aims to empower Australians about how to achieve quality of life towards end of life, said Camilla Rowland – Palliative Care Australia CEO. “As our population ages and levels of chronic disease increase, so does the demand for palliative care. Health reforms over the last couple of years are a good start but we need both the government and the community to go further if we are to deliver on what is a human right.”

Camilla Rowland

Recognising that many people are fearful of confronting death, Ms Rowland said National Palliative Care Week aims to dispel those fears. “National Palliative Care Week is an opportunity to open minds and hearts to the profound human spirit that drives palliative care and unlock the knowledge that comes when people and families are challenged by a life-limiting diagnosis.”

The event is also an occasion to credit those who provide palliative care, added Ms Rowland. “National Palliative Care Week is an opportunity to thank and recognise the people who deliver palliative care.”

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Tags: camilla rowland, end of life care, karen gregory, Lutheran Services, mel wagner, palliative care australia, resthaven, Sonya Smart, VMCH,

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