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Echuca Regional Health celebrates palliative care week

By Anna McGuinness

THERE’S a lot more to palliative care than you may think.

National Palliative Care Week started last Sunday and ends tomorrow.

This year’s theme, ‘Palliative Care… It’s more than you think’, aims to tackle some common misconceptions, something the palliative care team at Echuca Regional Health is very aware of.

“Our personal favourite is when people say ‘there’s nothing that can be done’, but there is always something we can do for the patient or their family,” community care nurse Katherine Formica said.

She said their role was also more than just caring for the patient - they also support their family, carers and loved ones.

“We’ve also been known to feed and pat a dog or two,” she said.

Echuca Regional Health palliative care staff member Jannali Mitchell.

Palliative Care Victoria’s interim chief executive Annie Revell agreed there was often a misunderstanding around the support provided.

“Many people think it’s the very last few weeks before someone dies and if palliative care is brought into a conversation, it’s the end of things,” she said.

“In fact, it’s about helping people with a life-limiting illness live the remainder of their lives really well – sometimes their health will even improve.”

As the team at ERH can explain, palliative care is about improving the quality of life of someone with a serious illness and supporting their families, carers and loved ones through a difficult time.

ERH has both inpatient and community palliative care teams helping patients in hospital or at home.

For the community team every day is different: they visit patients in their homes across the Campaspe Shire, from Cohuna to Rochester to Rushworth and everywhere in between.

Katherine Formica said the team looked after people with any sort of life-limiting illness such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.

“We assess symptoms, liaise with GPs and specialists and co-ordinate all types of care and we do it all from the comfort of their own home,” she said.

“We often look after people for many months and help them continue to be able to do the things they love such as travelling, spending time with family or gardening.

“Sometimes we discharge patients from our care if we have been able to sort out any issues they are having, we let them get on with life knowing we are here for them when they need us again.”

Regularly seeing patients at home means the nurses can pick up on any changes quickly and act on them, avoiding admission to a hospital.

Echuca Regional Health's community nursing team: (L-R) Katherine Formica, Pam Teh, Sarah Avery, Jannali Mitchell, Jan Carey, Libby Bell and Jo Amos.

“We also work very closely with patients and families so they are aware and prepared for when things progress,” Katherine said.

ERH also has two palliative care suites on its rehab ward for patients who need to be admitted to hospital.

Inpatient palliative care co-ordinator Jo Amos said it enabled patients and families to be looked after in a more home-like environment.

“We assist with complex issues such as the communication of bad news, symptom control, identifying spiritual and cultural needs and many others,” she said.

This year Palliative Care Victoria launched an online campaign to raise awareness on the importance of palliative care, with care workers and volunteers submitting videos sharing their stories and experiences working in the community.

“Palliative care is all about helping people live, die and grieve well. Day in and day out, amazing teams and people in many different roles across our state work to do this, so we wanted to celebrate and share them,” Ms Revell said.

ERH got involved with their own video featuring their palliative care nurses sharing what palliative care means to them.

Palliative care is not just for the elderly; Katherine said anyone can refer themselves or a loved one to their service directly or by speaking to their GP or health care provider.

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