Palliative care plays a vital role

Categories: Care.

Long life is one of those things we wish for, but then we find the reality is more complicated.

Thanks to medical advancements and a widespread emphasis on healthy lifestyles in our society, Canadians are living longer. Members of the generation we call baby boomers, that giant cohort born after the Second World War, are now hitting their 60s. The older you are, the more use you generally make of the health care system. But is the system ready?

The challenges presented by an aging citizenry are many. One crucially important area is how to handle the pain and suffering associated with a terminal illness. While most Canadians say they want to die at home or in the residential setting of a hospice, the sad fact is, the vast majority instead die in hospitals. A full 70 per cent of Canadians suffered this fate in 2011.

Of course, excellent palliative care is available in hospitals, if the focus is on pain management and access to a variety of trained professionals, including chaplains and social workers, to provide a better quality of life for the patient. But there are some good reasons to look at other settings.

One is cost. Hospitals are extraordinarily expensive places to stay, with an acute-care bed costing $850 to $1,100 a day. Compare that with $439 for a residential hospice bed, or $350 for palliative care in a private home.

The other reason, of course, is that most people recoil from spending their last days in an institution. Cambridge’s Lisaard House, the first and only residential hospice in Waterloo Region, just has six beds. It served 129 people in 2012, but another 186 requests could not be accommodated because there wasn’t room.

It’s welcome news that Lisaard plans to open another hospice, with an additional eight to 10 beds, in the Doon area of Kitchener later this year. That’s a major step forward. But it needs to be supported by more access to palliative care at home, and in institutions from nursing homes to hospitals. That requires a broad societal effort.

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