Recognizing Palliative Care Week – May 19-25

If we were to give thought to the end of our life, our minds would likely ponder on experiences that matter most. These experiences might be about moments spent with the people or a special pet we love… travelling… getting outdoors… the care we may have received at some point… and the list goes on. All these experiences give us joy and make us feel safe and loved. 

It's difficult to say what matters most. There are many aspects of palliative care that are important for the individual. But I often think about how much the experience affects the family. For me, providing high quality palliative care is really a part of preventative medicine. All of us can probably think back to a time when we were with someone close to us, who was nearing the end of their life. It is likely that we can even remember sights, sounds and other senses of that time. How important is it, then, that we ensure this time, while sad and difficult, is remembered as special, with tears perhaps, but also smiles, rather than fear or distress. Providing high quality palliative care helps not only the person dying, but also those who carry the memories of that time into the future.

Dr. Cornelius Woelk, Medical Director – Palliative Care

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a philosophy of care. A palliative care approach to health care is when a patient’s goals for care shifts from treatment intended to cure, to goals that focus on quality of life and symptom management. A person does not need to be close to death to seek a palliative care approach to health care. Palliative care can be accessed at any hospital, personal care home or in a patient’s home.

All nurses and doctors receive education about palliative care to meet the patient’s goals for care. This can be done by:

  • affirming life and regarding dying as a normal process
  • providing relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • integrating the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • intending neither to hasten nor postpone death
  • offering a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • supporting the family cope during the patient’s illness and their own bereavement
  • using a team approach to address the needs of patients and families

Palliative care is applicable in the early stages of illness. It enhances quality of life and may positively influence the course of illness. 

Who can receive palliative care?

Palliative care focuses on enhancing quality of life and is not about prolonging or shortening life. You may be referred to the palliative care team if you or a loved one is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, and if the goals of care are for quality of life and relief of symptoms. One can also self-refer to access services.

Where can you receive palliative care service?

Palliative care at Southern Health-Santé Sud is provided at health care centres, personal care homes, and in homes. All health care providers receive basic education about the palliative care approach. Health care providers work with people in our care and caregivers to meet intended goals of care. A specialist team of nurses, doctors, and a social worker is also available to you, your caregiver and other health care providers for addressing pain, nausea, concerns about eating and drinking as well as planning for the future. You can also ask a palliative care nurse or physician to visit you or your loved one at home, in a health care centre or personal care home.

Palliative Care is not just the last moments. It’s every moment. Every laugh, tear, hug, and fear – to be that calm amongst the storm. It’s hearing that sigh of relief when they feel heard, cared for and loved by our team.

Stacey Peters, Palliative Care Administrative Assistant

How do I decide where to receive palliative care?

Deciding on where you or your loved one will receive care as an illness progresses can be challenging. Early planning can decrease anxiety later on. Talk to your loved one about the type of care they want to receive at the end of life. Consider and discuss expectations and wishes, care needs, finances and family needs. Remember that these decisions may change as the illness evolves.

Some people in palliative care may choose to remain at home as the illness progresses. They might have a large support network of family and friends who can help with care. Being surrounding by loved ones in a familiar environment may be the best care option in these circumstances. Home care services are available to help you or your loved one and family transition through the end of life journey. It’s a good idea to make a list of people who can help you and your family with care, including people from work or community groups. Admission to a health care centre may be necessary, if or when care becomes too difficult or if symptoms become unmanageable.

What types of support are available if I remain at home?

There are programs and supports available to help you remain at home as long as possible. Equipment and supplies, like hospital beds, are available through home care services. The Manitoba Palliative Care Drug Access Program may cover medications and home oxygen to ease symptoms. Please discuss this or other questions with your health care provider. Palliative care services focus on improving living until the end of life.

How do I access Palliative Care Services

For more information or to access services, call 204-388-2052. 

Quotes from a few Southern Health-Santé Sud Caregivers & Volunteers

hands“What matters most to me in palliative care is to know that I have been able to comfort, care for and support a person who is facing end of life – and to help them and their family find hope and peace while living the best they can.”

Pam King, Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator 

“If our lives are a story, then how we die brings a fitting conclusion to that narrative.  I try to help people gather themselves to write that last chapter, however they see fit.”

Dr. Darren Reimer, Physician, Palliative Care

“What matters most to me in palliative care is being able to offer some extra comfort and privacy to palliative families within the setting of their home or nearby hospital. They can be in their own community or close to it with top medical professionals, yet surrounded by loving families to support them as they die. We, as a rural community, can offer grief support through literature for children and adults, grief support groups and annual Memorial services. That is what matters to me about palliative care.”

Holly Rafferty, B.A.,  Red River Valley Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator

“For me, the most important moments in my work have been when I can connect with a person and talk about who they are without referencing their illness in any way: When you see that glint in someone’s eyes as they describe something meaningful, or when you can make someone smile when you know they are facing many troubles.”

 Mark Shepherd, Provincial Palliative Care Specialist of Manitoba 

“I learn from my volunteers. I embrace my role and it is a career of multi-tasking, but very rewarding as I guide others to make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. I teach the volunteers how to feel comfortable when they hear of somebody needing palliative care or are supporting their friends or family. It is not about dying. It’s about living and embracing life. These volunteers are there with the patient and families from the beginning to the end.”

Jerri-Ann Froese – BTHC Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator

“All definitions of palliative care include both patient and family/caregiver.  Balancing the needs/desires of the patient and the capability of the family/caregiver to meet those needs is an incredible responsibility for palliative care providers.  As a social worker, I am privileged to meet with both the patient and family/caregiver, listen to their hopes/fears, facilitate open communication and advocate for care that best meets their needs.  Because our Palliative Care Program is patient/family focused, we are not bound by the physical location of the patient.  We truly can ‘meet people where they are at’ throughout the trajectory of their illness and bereavement.”

Ruby Garand – Psychosocial Specialist  

“Palliative care is very individual, very personal and can mean different things to different people.  In broad terms, receiving palliative care is receiving care for incurable diseases, helping to manage not only the physical symptoms but also the emotional, spiritual, psychological and social suffering as part of the holistic approach. It’s helping to improve quality of life during end of life living. It’s a team made up of different healthcare providers, all with the same goal and focus in helping the individual and their families in attaining their goal in what they believe is quality of life.

“But palliative care is also very intimate because we are coming into people’s lives in a stressful, fragile time.  It is a very humbling experience to be allowed into these individuals’ lives during this time of uncertainty.  Palliative care is that glimmer of hope to live comfortably for the rest of their lives; to feel relief from discomfort and pain, to be a gentle voice, a soothing hand and an ear to listen.  It’s sometimes the knowledge that someone is going to keep visiting and checking in. Palliative care is both a gift to give and to receive – a rewarding experience that someone was able to live as comfortably as possible to the end.”

Giselle Jeffrey, Palliative Care Nurse