One of the more common queries I have been recently receiving from not only clients, but also legal firms (on behalf of their clients), is around the topic of palliative care. What is it? Who should I refer to? How is the best way to go about it in the most modest, graceful and compassionate way for all involved?
In essence, palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of the life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness. The main aim here is to provide relief of suffering by means of early identification and considered assessment; and administer the appropriate treatment for pain and other problems such as, physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Given my specialisation in the Aged Care space, quite often palliative care is required for those elderly loved ones approaching the end of life for which there is a requirement to ensure that this is done in an environment most suitable based on the level of care required, taking into account (where possible) the individual’s and family's wishes for where they want to spend their final days / months.
Whilst there are a number of aged care facilities in the country that offer the specialist offering of palliative care, it shouldn’t be assumed that all aged care facilities are equipped to offer this service, and have specially trained staff with the necessary skills required to care for these patients.
Unfortunately in some cases, families are faced with a case of ‘pass the parcel’ when conflicting needs arise between the patient's/family’s wishes to stay at home; a high level of care that exceeds the capabilities of the facilities and needs to be administered in (often an over crowed hospital with a shortage in available beds); or an aged care facility not equipped to care for the patient. The end result can often mean an extremely stressed, confused and tired family trying to cope with the situation around them, whist desperately wanting to put on a brave and confident face for that loved one during their last chapter of life.
While some aged care facilities provide excellent care, the Productivity Commission reported that palliative and end-of-life care are poorly provided by a number of aged care facilities. As an Aged Care Specialist working closely with most of the major providers in this country, my observation is that these facilities, in the main, have well trained staff, including registered nurses, who are skilled in the delivery of end of life procedures.
Often, the resident (and the family) will have the choice to remain in the aged care facility or transfer to a hospital where the level of professional care should be at a higher level. Some aged care facilities even provide accommodation for close family members in order to provide them with the opportunity to spend valuable time with their loved one over this difficult period, creating a family environment with both blood relatives and facility carers.
At the end of the day, the role I play for my clients and their families doesn’t really change – my role is to take the worry off the family’s shoulders and ensure the right options and care are provided to the loved one.