When Sharon Delaney’s husband, Bob, was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, the North York couple was thrown into an often incomprehensible and uncaring health care system.
They found doctors primarily concerned with their own speciality rather than treating Bob as a person.
Trying to get answers about Bob’s care often led to frustrating efforts to find the right person to ask or seemingly never-ending games of telephone tag
Bob eventually poured out his disappointment to his physician.
“We came to our family doctor and Bob said he felt abandoned,” Delaney said.
The doctor referred him to the Freeman Centre for the Advancement of Palliative Care at North York General Hospital.
Unfortunately, Bob, an electrician, died in 2009 of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by his exposure to asbestos four decades earlier.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Delaney said.
Although he died, the time Bob spent under the care of the centre and advanced palliative care nurse Virginia Clark-Wier made all the difference.
Finally, the couple could call one person and get the answers they needed about Bob’s symptoms, dietary needs and medication. They had the treatments and support they needed to let Bob die with dignity at home.
“You just don’t find (that care) anywhere else,” Delaney said.
She was at North York General Thursday, Feb. 7 for the announcement of a new fellowship for advanced practice nursing in palliative care.
Six-month fellowships beginning in July will allow nurses interested in providing end-of-life care to patients in hospital and at home learn how to deliver comprehensive palliative care tailored to the unique needs of every patient and their family.
“This is the first of its kind in Ontario,” hospital president Dr. Tim Rutledge said.
“One of our core values is patient care first in everything we do.”
Philanthropists Zoltan and Yetta Freeman and the hospital foundation each contributed $1 million to establishing the fellowship, with expertise to its development coming from York University, the de Souza Institute, Cancer Care Ontario, the University of Toronto, the University of Windsor, Ryerson University and Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York City.
Ninety per cent of Canadians who are dying could benefit from the type of care offered by the Freeman Centre, but only one in four have access to comprehensive palliative care services, the centre’s medical director, Dr. Nina Horvath, said.
The need will grow as the population grows and ages, she said.
Integrated and palliative care is so important to patients because, without it, patients and family members like the Delaneys often encounter patchy community services and “siloed” hospital care that fails to meet their medical and emotional needs, said North York General oncologist Dr. Daryl Roitman, and Anna Tupis, the hospital’s program director of palliative care.
“The (health care) system is in treatment mode. We are going to keep fixing you and fixing you,” Tupis said.
“We all die, one way or another. You (should) have a choice how you want to go about that.”
Palliative care is focused on managing the pain and emotional needs of the patient and the family so the person can concentrate on living with the time they have left, Tupis said.
“That is the approach of palliative care,” she said.