There are only two experiences that every human is destined to have – life and death. Palliative care does not reflect failure, rather an opportunity to live your final moments to their fullest potential.
This is something western Sydney’s palliative care workers unknowingly learn from their patients every day – and are reflecting on during National Palliative Care Week (24-30 May).
Whether it’s in moments of great joy or crushing sadness, staff throughout Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) ensure the end of life care being provided to patients focuses on living, rather than dying.
Palliative care helps people of all ages live their life as well as possible for as long as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness.
This week is a week that raises awareness and understanding for palliative care in the Australian community with WSLHD staff members sharing their passion, motivation, and highlights from their extensive, productive, and care-filled careers.
Dr Sally Greenway
“There is humanity in death. Humanity in the process of grieving. Humanity in the process of caring.”
As the WSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Director, Dr Sally Greenway has been extensively involved in the daily operations of patient care.
She constantly sees her staff go above and beyond to ensure patients in the hospital and the community feel comfortable and supported in their end-of-life journey.
Sally reflected that during her 23 years in western Sydney, she has seen staff come together to improve the quality of life for the patients and families.
“Nurses, doctors, cleaners, occupational therapists, psychologists, volunteers – they are all here for one reason, and that is the patient.
“The patient is at the centre of everything they do. They make magic happen daily.
“The staff don’t see their patients for their disease or their medical identification number. They see them all as unique individuals,” she said.
Sally highlighted that although there are sad times, there many moments of laughter and joy.
“Humanity is at the centre of everything we do. We make sure that palliative care is everyone business. It is a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.
“We are a small team, but we make a difference to the quality of life and the quality of death of our patients.”
“I have been touched by death my whole life. I have walked in their shoes, and I know how it feels to lose someone you hold so close to your heart.”
Suzanne Collers is a clinical nurse consultant in Mount Druitt’s Supportive and Palliative Care unit.
She is the point-of-call for many patients and their families, connecting them to the right people and ensuring they are on the best path to care and comfort.
Reflecting on her motivations to become a palliative care nurse, Suzanne said that her career is as both rewarding and challenging as she expected it to be.
“As a palliative care nurse, you are connected to the whole picture – not only to the patient but their family and friends,” Suzanne said.
“If you have experienced bereavement, you know the pain for getting up each morning. The pain of watching someone you love deteriorate. But you also remember how they died, and the end of life experience.
“We strive to make the end of life experience as memorable as possible.”
Throughout her 13 years as a supportive and palliative care nurse, Suzanne has seen it all. From weddings to anniversaries, celebrity guests to bucket list fulfilments, no end of life gift will surprise her.
“We try to accommodate everyone and give them a memorable, positive end of life experience.
“Patients are at the front and centre of everything we do. If that means we bring the wedding to you – we will do that!”
“Volunteers bring an extra element of humanity to palliative care. They are a community that wants to help.”
WSLHD is supported by more than 50 palliative care volunteers across Mount Druitt, Blacktown and Westmead Hospitals.
Volunteers give up their time sitting with, supporting, and caring for patients when their loved ones cannot be there.
WSLHD Palliative and Supportive Care volunteer manager Kylie Clark said that the volunteers were sorely missed during COVID-19 when volunteers could not be in our hospitals.
“The presence lights up the unit. Their laughter, their hope and their smiling faces were welcomed back with open arms,” Kylie said.
“Human presence is a powerful thing, so having someone there – whether you know them or not – can make a massive difference to one’s overall end of life journey.
“It is about not leaving anyone alone – our vollies enable us to do just that.”
Celebrating National Palliative Care Week in western Sydney
Events are running across the district this week for National Palliative Care Week to celebrate the tireless efforts of palliative care professionals and volunteers.
End of Life Care Clinical Nurse Consultant Daniela Vacquez said events will align with the 2021 National Palliative Care Week theme, “It’s more than you think.”
“This year, we are seeking to raise awareness about the many benefits of quality palliative care,” Daniela said.
“The theme seeks to broaden the community’s perceptions, understanding and appreciation of palliative care, demonstrating its role in supporting the physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs of people living with a life-limiting illness, their families and their care team.”
Across WSLHD hospitals we have excellent palliative care specialist clinicians to support patients requiring care in hospital where this is needed.
To meet changing community expectations, we have partnered with palliative care provider Silver Chain to provide in-home palliative care to patients in western Sydney who have advanced, progressive and life-limiting illnesses.
Each year, the NSW Government invests more than $220 million in palliative care. Since 2017, the NSW Government has provided $145 million of enhanced funding to improve access and choice in palliative care and work to reduce avoidable hospital admissions. The 2020-21 NSW Budget will include a $56 million funding boost for palliative care.