February 16, 2011

Home health care can include spiritual care

As published in The Erin Advocate

I was surprised to learn recently that spiritual care is among the many publicly funded health care services that can be provided to people in their homes.

It does seem like a logical extension of the effort to allow people to return home as soon as possible after being in a hospital, where they would have access to a chaplain.

Spiritual Care Providers are included on local teams being set up by the Waterloo Wellington Hospice Palliative Care Network, to benefit terminally ill patients. They can pray with clients, read to them or just chat.

The service is entirely optional, not linked to any particular religion, and available in addition to any visits from ministers or other church volunteers. It is a recognition that people, whether they care to express them or not, do have spiritual needs that can affect their physical and mental health.

It is one of many home services, including Personal Support Workers, coordinated by Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), which also controls access to Long Term Care (nursing) Homes. Funding from the Ontario government for hospitals and home care is allocated through the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which currently has an Aging at Home initiative.

Hospice Palliative Care Teams are similar in concept to a Family Health Team, with a core group of doctors working with other professionals. Normally there would be a nurse practitioner, clinical nurses and a spiritual care provider.

The teams enable many patients with palliative diagnoses to return home from hospital (if they wish) instead of long-term care placement. There is no team for the Erin area as yet, but it is something we could have – perhaps something for which a seniors' group could lobby.

The Palliative Care Network offers education for health care professionals to improve their knowledge and skills in this field of medicine. They have also taken the initiative to place symptom response kits in the homes of patients and in long term care homes. These provide specialized medications and equipment so nurses can provide treatment quickly if a patient's condition changes, often without transferring them to hospital.

Palliative care, which focuses on comfort and other needs of dying patients and their families, is available from various sources: hospitals, long term care homes, family doctors and their teams, community agencies and residential hospices.

Since 1980 Hospice Wellington has been providing care for palliative patients and families, including bereavement support. It is a volunteer-centered organization, delivering more than 16,000 hours of volunteer support for almost 700 individuals each year.

Last year they opened a 10-bed residential hospice in Guelph, providing medical care and support in an attractive home-like setting, as an alternative to hospital, when patients are close to death and can no longer stay at home.

Some people resist the idea of going to a hospice, because they are not familiar with the concept. It is worthwhile to get information, or go on a tour, so that if you need their services, you will know what to expect. Information is available at www.hospicewellington.org. For Caledon, there is Bethell House Hospice in Inglewood, with information at www.hospicecaledon.ca.