TRURO – Chris MacDougall knows first-hand just how important palliative care at home really is.
MacDougall, a Truro businessman, lost his 14-year-old son Charlie almost 10 years ago due to bone cancer.
“Charlie was sick for three-and-a-half years and spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital at the IWK,” he said, following an announcement by the province’s health and wellness minister on a new strategy to improve palliative care in the province. “When we were advised he would no longer be able to go back to the hospital to be treated, we had to choose between palliative care at the IWK or palliative care in Truro.”
MacDougall and his wife, Karen, made the decision to keep Charlie at home with the help of a palliative care nurse, the VON and Dr. David Henderson.
“I look back at that time and I know of so many families that wouldn’t be able to do what we did,” said MacDougall. “We had the financial capacity to keep Charlie at home. I know tons of people that couldn’t do that. To me, this announcement, which is very much appreciated, is long, long overdue. It should’ve happened decades ago.”
Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine visited the Colchester East Hants Hospice Society’s office on Queen Street yesterday for the strategy announcement, which will see the province invest $1 million in the first year. The strategy is to help the province move to a more integrated approach with health professionals and community organizations, all while focusing more on the patients’ needs.
“None of us really likes to think about the end of our lives, but that day will eventually come for all of us,” said Glavine during the announcement. “When it does, most of us don’t like the idea of spending that time in hospital.”
Glavine said he would much rather spend his last days at home with his family, with the necessary care to be as comfortable as possible, and that is the vision for the new strategy.
“The strategy recognizes that palliative care starts with the diagnosis with the life-threatening illness, not the end stages of a disease,” he said. “It recognizes that a person and family-centered approach is critical and that patients have the right to be involved with their care.”
Through the strategy, an advisory committee will be established to guide implementation, and will see a provincial palliative care co-ordinator hired with additional palliative care team members in South Shore, Annapolis Valley and Capital district health authorities first.
“We are not starting from scratch,” said Glavine, noting Nova Scotians already receive good palliative care. “This strategy is about making it better. We want to create more options in terms of the places where care can be given, like at home. In a system that has traditionally been focused on treatments and cures, we need to change our philosophy to deliver care by multiple providers in the health system and community in a way that is seamless to the patient.”
To do that, he said, requires an increased capacity within the health-care system with an approach that’s rooted in primary care.
“Our focus right now is on the care, on increasing the integration and capacity of our health system and community organizations so that Nova Scotians can get the care they need to make it possible to die at home in a familiar, comfortable place, surrounded by loved ones,” the minister said.
The strategy will also see funding go to the Nova Scotia Hospice Palliative Care Association for educating Nova Scotians and care providers on advance planning, which helps respect the patient’s and family’s wishes for end-of-life care.