Last week, the provincial government announced $11 million in grant funding for palliative and end-of-life-care in Alberta.
Dr. Konrad Fassbender, the scientific director of the Palliative Institute with Covenant Health, which operates 10 hospice beds at the St. Michael’s Health Centre in Lethbridge, said palliative care is a relatively new advancement in medicine.
“For the past quarter century, there’s been a lot of work by many organizations and individuals trying to understand palliative care and the needs of families and patients who are dying,” Fassbender explained.
Karen Fritz, the director of Integrated Home Care and Seniors Health in the South zone for Alberta Health Services, said they will have the opportunity to request specific uses for the money.
The deadline to fill out a grant application is Jan. 7, 2022.
“Our teams can come up with a type of a proposal that may best help to suit the needs of the people in our community,” she explained.
“There’s a lot of areas that we can continue to improve upon, with looking at that funding,” said Dr. Dionne Walsh, a Lethbridge physician specializing in palliative care.
According to Walsh, the previously allocated $9 million of the $20 million announced in September 2020 went to several key areas.
“One of the big (changes) in our community has been that the co-pay for medications is covered and the cost of syringes,” she said.
“When people can’t swallow anymore, we need to use injectable medications to make sure they’re comfortable. And sometimes, in the past, if they couldn’t afford that, they would need to leave their home.”
With the remainder of the funding, focus areas include community supports and services, research and innovation, education and training, and earlier access.
“Most Albertans are referred to palliative care in the last six weeks of life, which is far too late,” Fassbender explained.
“Research shows that an early introduction to palliative care and having those discussions with your health-care providers greatly improves the quality of life.”
When it comes to education, Walsh said both the public and other health-care professionals could benefit from increasing their knowledge.
“I would like to see a time where every person knew about palliative care and wasn’t afraid of it,” Walsh said.
“Our population is aging and we want to provide this approach to everyone, and our five physicians and six nurses can’t reach every person, and so we really want to be enabling other groups to be providing this care as well.”
Walsh added there are differences between end-of-life care and palliative care. The latter is meant to be a comprehensive approach that improves quality of life.
“Only one out of two Albertans is familiar with the term palliative care,” Fassbender added. “Not knowing, for half of the Albertans, that such a service exists or what the service entails is an important gap.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, while restrictive, resulted in the improvement of virtual care for palliative care patients within Walsh’s jurisdiction.
When it comes to the future of palliative care, Fritz sees the delivery continuing to focus on the individual’s needs.
“When we talk with patients and hear from them, they want to be supported in their home environment a lot, and so I do see the direction continuing to flow that way.”