Hospices playing a vital role in Covid-19

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and Featured.

HPCA’s 103 member hospices across South Africa who care for patients with a variety of life-threatening diseases, predominantly in the comfort of their own homes.

Hospices are playing a valuable and unseen role in the Covid-19 crisis.

Their mission is to promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all living with a life-threatening illness, which includes Covid-19.

Tersia Burger, CEO of Stepping Stone Hospice and Care Services in Alberton, said: “Palliative care is available to anyone diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and we are increasingly recognising that Covid-19 infections fit within that category.”

Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), explained that while palliative care is often understood to be care for the terminally ill this is not correct.

“It is the provision of care for people whose life is threatened by a disease. Palliative care trained health workers can and are offering specialist support in areas that are critical during the pandemic, such as pain and symptom management, communication with families, spiritual support and bereavement counselling.

“Families and patients often don’t know they can and should expect holistic support when they are facing life-threatening diseases of any kind,” she said.

HPCA’s 103 member hospices across South Africa who care for patients with a variety of life-threatening diseases, predominantly in the comfort of their own homes, implemented strict standard operating protocols (SOP) early in the pandemic to protect the highly vulnerable patients.

As the lockdown has continued, some hospices are extending the SOP to offer care for those that have been affected by Covid-19.

Ladies of Hope in Ennerdale, South of Johannesburg, recently set up a 14-bed Covid-19 centre in conjunction with three local doctors.

“We received a donation of seven oxygen concentrators that could help 14 patients at any time,” said Myrtle Williams, CEO of Ladies of Hope.

“This centre will be specific in its mandate to house patients with breathing problems that cannot be admitted to hospital.”

Burger, who is a Covid-19 survivor, said: “People are ‘broken’ by Covid-19, and what we are finding is that many need rehabilitative support. Their families are also under stress as everyone suddenly faces mortality and there is a long recovery process in front of those who have been infected.

“Patients who have been in hospital are extremely weak and often suffer from depression and brain fog (struggling to think clearly). Their families have not been able to see them and they and their families require physical and emotional care often outside the capacity of those who love them. This is another place where hospices can play a significant role.”

Skowronska added: “Increasingly, many families need additional support to care for their very sick loved ones from home or when they are not able to access the hospital services they need.

“Many are scared to engage with hospitals for fear of infection or losing the ability to communicate with their ill-family member. Hospices are stepping into these gaps.”

There are nine regional hospice associations that are members of the Hospice Palliative Care Association, representing each province in the country.

“Hospice is not a building, but a philosophy. It is essentially the desire to promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all with a life-threatening illness,” concluded Skowronska.

“Hospices deliver palliative care in three main ways: home-based care for those who prefer to be at home (and are able to be), hospice community centres (day-care centres) for those who are able to travel to central points, and in-patient units for around-the-clock care.

“As our member organisations already deal with diseases such as HIV and TB, we know how to deal with infectious diseases and over the last four months, hospices have not only kept their normal patients safe, but have adapted their services to step up to the frontline with vital assistance.”