End of life care

By Jenn Watt

June 7 2016

Our country has been in the midst of an intense and thoughtful conversation about the end of life and what supports and legislation should be available for those facing illness and death.

Last week MPs voted 186-137 to pass Bill C-14 which lays the groundwork for assisted dying in Canada. That legislation is now headed to the Senate.

The debate over assisted dying came to Haliburton too when MP Jamie Schmale asked constituents to vote in his referendum. The majority of respondents were in favour of the legislation and he voted according to the results.

Assisted dying is one part of a larger conversation that we need to continue pursuing in this country and in Haliburton County. While it is important to provide the option for those facing down intolerable suffering to take control of their time of death it is also crucially important that we continue to think about how we can better the deaths of others who need palliative and hospice care.

Last week Haliburton Highlands Health Services received the long-awaited news that the expansion of palliative care at Haliburton’s hospital was approved.

Over the years more than $900000 has been raised by this small community in order to bring a second suite to the hospital and it was becoming worrisome that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care was spending so much time with HHHS’s application.

Finally on June 1 the good news came.

“The expansion will allow HHHS to provide this much-needed service to more people in the community and it will help enhance the present palliative care and hospice programs at HHHS” said Carolyn Plummer interim CEO in a release.

Quality end-of-life care is crucially important to any community but in this county which has an unusually high population of seniors there is even more urgency.

According to Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association having available hospice palliative care reduces stress on family improves quality of life for patients and can reduce cost for caregivers particularly in the case of palliative suites in hospitals.

“Hospital-based palliative care reduces the cost of end-of-life care by 50 per cent or more primarily by reducing the number of ICU admissions diagnostic testing interventional procedures and overall hospital length of stay” materials from that organization say.

The palliative expansion is a visual symbol of what the Highlands has already been working towards. Hospice services once under the auspices of SIRCH and now part of HHHS has been easing the burden of caring for loved ones for years.

That service has since been expanded and now includes the Palliative Care Community Team a multidisciplinary group that assesses the needs of the client and the family to best help with the end-of-life journey.

This momentum needs to continue; the oft-quoted aging demographics of Canada have already reached the Highlands with the majority of this community over the age of 50 and about a quarter of us over 65.

In passing Bill C-14 the Trudeau government indicated that it would be looking at enhancing palliative care in Canada alongside these changes to assisted dying.

That promise is as important as the legislation itself. Making end-of-life care more affordable and accessible will benefit more people in this country – and this county – than assisted dying legislation ever could.