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LETTER: End of life care is an issue for everyone

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the Editor

Universal healthcare is a sacrosanct ideal with foundational principles. Health care is a human right which carries through the entirety of one’s life. Historically, societies that were known to honour and respect death through spiritual ceremony, were deemed to be more advanced, yet somehow in 21st-century Newfoundland and Labrador we have abandoned those ideals within our health-care system.

Our province holds the embarrassing distinction of being the only province without a residential hospice as part of its end of life care strategy; the only province without an end of life strategy to begin with.

There are approximately 100 residential hospices throughout Canada operating under funding models including public-private partnerships. Those jurisdictions have recognized a deficiency in end of life care and seen residential hospice as a significant component of addressing it. Successive governments have failed to address this important issue while individuals die in homes without proper supports, in acute care beds or emergency departments.  Often, they are surrounded by loved ones sitting in lawn chairs. This is not to cast aspersions on care providers who do wonderful work, but we ask them to do so in the wrong environment. 

The Lionel Kelland Hospice organization has existed for several years. It is a charity advocating for the establishment of the first residential hospice in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The building which was gifted by the Presentation Sisters, will serve as a residential hospice for Central Region.  A business plan submitted to government in 2017 included an analysis of need and a request to contribute to the hospice project. We have done preliminary work on establishing a capital campaign and engineering assessments. The funding would be shared between the province and the charity for both the capital and operating cost. A fundraising assessment has confirmed the region's capacity to support. To date $775,000 has been raised organically without the commencement of a capital campaign. In December 2018, a needs assessment was commissioned by the province and Lionel Kelland Hospice agreed to participate. We do so notwithstanding our belief that the need is evident. The financial commitment we have received from donors and service groups is indicative that they share our belief.

Our plan calls for a 10-bed hospice with an estimated capacity for 120 patients and families annually, who are currently treated in inappropriate settings that include acute care beds. Beds in hospital cost between $1,200 and $1,500 per day. Hospice beds are estimated to cost $500 per day.  

Savings are significant, but more importantly, the end of life setting is in keeping with how a caring society should treat its dying. It is wholly the responsibility of government to provide this service, yet we are willing to cost share and do it better. We are ready, but we remain without a funding commitment.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are known throughout the globe for our boundless empathy, yet we have the dubious distinction of being the only province without residential hospice care. End of life care and death are uncomfortable topics. Those facing these issues are vulnerable persons, focused on getting through the grieving process and adjusting to the new life that awaits them without a loved one. They are not in the position to be advocates for better care and the end of life care issue has not received the attention it deserves.

With an aging population, where many don't have the necessary family supports due to decades of out-migration, the issue is more compelling than ever before.  It is time for people to ask themselves if they truly believe our end of life care is what it should be and how we can make it better. With or without a funding partner, the need for residential hospice will grow.  What is a challenge with viable solutions today becomes a crisis tomorrow.  

This is an election year.  

People of all stripes will be asking what issues are important to you as they attempt to secure your vote. I would encourage the electorate to think of their own personal experiences with end of life care, demand better, and accept nothing less.  

Allan Bradley

Chair, Lionel Kelland Hospice

Grand Falls-Windsor

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