More than 25 per cent of the residents of Queens and Lunenburg Counties are over 65 years old, yet there are no dedicated palliative care facilities or dedicated beds in any of the three hospitals in the counties, said Kim Masland, MLA for Queens-Shelburne.
This was part of the discussion that Masland had with Zach Churchill, the new Minister of Health and Wellness, at the March 11 session of the Nova Scotia Legislature.
“A South Shore palliative care centre is long overdue; will the new Minister of Health and Wellness commit to funding one?”
Churchill replied, “I do think Nova Scotia could benefit from more dedicated palliative care centres,” adding that there are a couple of ways the government could approach this. New ones could be built, or current facilities could have beds dedicated for this use.
In an interview with LighthouseNOW, Masland insisted that people have the right to die with dignity.
“Sadly, if someone’s bringing their loved one, who is at end-of-life and that they can no longer care for at home, there may not be a bed for them,” she said.
“When someone is at the end of life, they deserve that dignity. Families also deserve to be able to spend those last moments with their loved ones in an environment that is comfortable and that is confidential so they can be together for those last breaths.”
Churchill said he will be looking at the expansion of palliative care services in the province, but stopped short of promising any care beds or infrastructure investments for Queens or Lunenburg Counties specifically.
Masland is prepared to keep fighting for palliative care spaces for the South Shore.
Nova Scotia Health responds
John W. Gillis is the director for content and media relations and public engagement and communications for Nova Scotia Health. He indicated in an email that in 2020, of the patients in the South Shore palliative caseload, 69 per cent died in the hospital while 31 per cent died at home. In 2019, 78 per cent died in the hospital and 22 per cent at home. In 2018, 74 per cent died in the hospital, while 26 per cent were at home.
In 2020, the South Shore Palliative Care team received 323 referrals, and “this number has grown significantly over the last several years indicating a continued need for palliative care services,” said Gillis.
Gillis noted that Nova Scotia Health and Wellness is committed to examining and evaluating the palliative care services on the South Shore and continues to work with the South Shore Hospice and Palliative Care Society to improve options for end-of-life care within the two counties.
The South Shore Palliative team has staff providing care as a consultative service currently on inpatients at all three South Shore hospitals, as well as providing community-based palliative care services to the entirety of Queens and Lunenburg counties.
Gillis admitted patients do, at times, get admitted to less-than-ideal settings due to overcrowding and a lack of appropriate beds.
“Our teams work incredibly hard to avoid this. We have added palliative care nurses to acute care settings and we have offered palliative care education to inpatient teams, as well as community teams and long-term care facilities,” he insisted.
Moreover, there are numerous facilities across the province that have beds designated for patients receiving end of life care, according to Gillis.
There are also dedicated palliative care units in Halifax, Truro, New Glasgow, Antigonish and Cape Breton. As well, there are two hospice facilities in Halifax and Kentville.
As far as new facilities go, there are requirements in creating new hospice facilities within the Department of Health and Wellness hospice framework. These include having an adequate population base in a community to support such a facility.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin