We are now well past a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a severe impact on the global palliative care community. Inpatient units closed, staff and funding disrupted, patients suffering traumatic deaths with families denied access to their loved ones in hospital and without their usual support networks and traditional rituals surrounding death.
Social networks are crucial where deep connections can form and grow and continue to bind us together. Yet there also appears to be a shift occurring as health care systems realize the importance of the skills of palliative care workers in getting through a pandemic.
In New York hospitals palliative care consults became one of the most frequent requests. In Bangladesh the Center for Palliative Care developed training for ICU staff. Hospice chaplains are in great demand, along with social workers trained in palliative care. Critical care professionals realized they were lacking in the training and skills needed to manage so many patients dying in ways that they were not accustomed to seeing. Patients dying at home with shortness of breath could have their dyspnea and anxiety managed by hospice and palliative care professionals.
Palliative care is at a crossroad and hopefully at a tipping point with the hope of finally being recognized, not as a niche in health care but as an essential component of every health care system. Ironically it may be that an infectious disease pandemic helps change myths and misperceptions about palliative care’s importance and value that have persisted for decades.
Dr Stephen Connor is the Executive Director of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance; an alliance of over 350 palliative care organizations in over 100 countries. Stephen has worked in hospice and palliative care for over 45 years as a health care and association executive, health services researcher, educator, consultant, advocate and psychotherapist, licensed as a clinical psychologist.