Working with underserved communities to improve palliative care in SA

As National Palliative Care Week gets underway this week, a unique project at Flinders University is highlighting the contribution of community organisations in increasing awareness of end-of-life care for populations impacted by geographic, socio-economic, and cultural and linguistic barriers.

Working with Playford Women’s Shed, Midway Road Community House, Hutt St Centre, and NDIS service provider, Viva Mutual, the project is part of a 5-year Palliative Care Research Collaboration (PCRC) led by the University of Adelaide with the University of South Australia, Western Sydney University, and La Trobe University.

The 5-year South Australian focused research program, funded by The Hospital Research Foundation Group, aims to improve the access and delivery of palliative care services to underserved communities.

According to Professor Gillian Harvey of Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, “death is inevitable but despite this, large sections of our community do not have access to palliative care or other end-of-life resources for a number of reasons, including where they live or their socio-economic status.”

“As our population continues to age, this gap will only widen. Dying is a social part of life with a medical component, not the other way around, and we need to provide members of our community with the resources to support each other through end-of-life care.”

As part of the research project, Nick Muirhead, a wills and estate lawyer with Adelaide law firm Norman Waterhouse, recently delivered a workshop on preparing Advanced Care Directives to Playford Women’s Shed, an Elizabeth East organisation supporting women in need.

Workshop attendees at the Playford Women’s Shed

Founder and Director of Playford Women’s Shed Raelene Wlochowicz said these sorts of conversations weren’t had often enough, and the information provided at the workshop was so rarely available to her members.

“What you have here is a group of women who can’t normally afford to sit down with a lawyer and ask these questions,” said Ms Wlochowicz.

“Having Nick here today, these women have been able to receive information that they wouldn’t have been able to afford to get. I think that’s really important, that we try and provide women here with the things that they could never afford to have in their lives, because they’re struggling just to afford to live.

“These types of sessions need to be a collective all over the place. We don’t talk about death enough and it’s important we take some of the scariness away in talking about these documents – you just don’t know what will happen.”

Nick Muirhead, a lawyer with Norman Waterhouse

Mr Muirhead, who is also Deputy Chair of the board of Palliative Care SA, said legally planning for your future was something everyone should consider, no matter what stage of life they’re in.

“I think a lot of people put these things off until it’s too late, and then they learn it through hard experience when it goes wrong and after something happens to someone. You normally only have to do it once or twice in your lifetime, but you will be prepared when the time does come.”

Professor Harvey said the importance of these conversations was especially significant in more disadvantaged areas.

“We know that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses are more prevalent in lower socioeconomic areas due to a number of factors essentially colliding together, including chronic disease and lack of access to healthcare,” said Professor Harvey.

“We need to ensure that we’re educating people before they reach the healthcare system about the importance of preparing for these scenarios while they are living and can communicate their wishes.

“It is better to be prepared before you need it, so you get the care that you want, if and when the time comes – it becomes a lot more complicated if you reach the emergency department and you haven’t had any of these conversations beforehand.”

Further workshops will continue to be delivered throughout the year, both at the Playford Women’s Shed and the other community centres across Adelaide.

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