New report outlines palliative care challenges in Alberta as $11M grant program is launched
After a year of stakeholder consultation, the province released a report outlining challenges facing Alberta's palliative and end-of-life care system alongside a grant program to fund improvements.
Chaired by Dan Williams, UCP MLA for Peace River, the report tables four recommendations to help advance palliative and end-of-life care in Alberta, including:
- having primary and continuing care providers grant earlier access opportunities for those diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-limiting condition;
- integrating more training about the palliative approach into health care and allied service provider entry-level and continuing professional development;
- expanding community supports and services, such as grief and bereavement services for caregivers; and
- investing in research and innovation to establish more care pathways for the transition between chronic disease management and palliative care.
In September 2020, the province said it would invest $20 million into initiatives supporting palliative and end-of-life care. According to the province, almost $9 million has been spent to improve education for health professionals and community hospice care projects.
Now the government says it will use the remaining $11 million to advance the recommendations tabled in the report by having health care providers, community and Indigenous groups submit grant applications.
"We recognize that access to appropriate and timely palliative and end-of-life care is extremely important," said Jason Copping, health minister. "The end-of-life care is not only about the person who sadly passes away, but it is about those who are left behind. And it is important for all of us.
"We must do more to achieve our vision (for palliative care)," he added. "I am optimistic that the proposals that we will receive will build on the best aspects of our palliative and end-of-life system."
ALBERTA DEMOGRAPHICS SHIFTING
According to the province, the biggest challenge facing Alberta's palliative care system is demographic shifts, with individuals aged 65 years and older expected to represent 20 per cent of Alberta's total population in 25 years.
The report says the population of those 80 and over is forecasted to reach 441,000 by 2046.
Not only will the population of seniors increase, but projections also point to the average life expectancy for Albertans increasing.
"To meet the needs of a growing and ageing population and mitigate higher costs for Alberta's health care system, it is necessary to strategically plan health care spending to use finite financial resources in the most cost-effective way," the report said.
- Alberta projects population will reach about 6.4 million by 2046
- 'Growth provides opportunities': Experts weigh in on Alberta’s population projections
Palliative care can save between $7,000 and $8,000 per patient compared to acute care, the province says.
That is why the report recommends adopting a palliative approach to patient care once life-limiting diseases are diagnosed to free up acute-care capacity, reduce the cost of delivering care, and improve quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families.
50% DO NOT KNOW ABOUT PALLIATIVE CARE
The report also mentioned the awareness challenge surrounding palliative care. According to a 2016 study cited by the province, only 50 per cent of Canadians know about palliative care. Additionally, many face barriers to accessing end-of-life care, like Indigenous populations, and Albertans living in rural settings.
"Palliative care is for anybody who has a life-limiting disease, it provides comfort," Williams said. "There is sadly a stigma associated with palliative care."
For Williams, this is why there needs to be better training for health care workers to guide patients through the transition to palliative care and settings that allow care to be provided at a patient's home or close to their community.
"Palliative and end-of-life care should start as early as possible," he added. "Individuals with life-limiting illnesses need to be comfortable overcoming that stigma and accessing what is important health care services to provide comfort for them in a time of need."
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