With a Canada-wide shortage of palliative care beds, paramedics in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley are stepping up to help patients nearing the end of life die at home with less suffering and more control over their last days.
According to a recent CBC Radio news report, community paramedics are helping palliative patients in remote and urban areas where access to hospice beds and doctors may be limited. When asked, most people say they would like to die at home, surrounded by family. But very few terminally ill patients actually are able to access palliative care at home – only 15 percent, according to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report.
By tapping into community paramedic services, more patients and their family caregivers would be able to access palliative care at home, helping to support a successful death with dignity and compassion.
Because many communities don’t have nearby clinics for care, many terminally ill and frail patients must use the emergency room to access medical care. But the ER is anything but a calming place, and patients nearing the end of life benefit from having some control over their death in a familiar and comforting environment. With visiting paramedics working on a team that includes the patient’s primary care provider, home health aides, and their pharmacist, palliative care patients can experience a better death with less pain, fear, isolation, and anxiety.
Similar paramedic programs are springing up across Canada and recently in Ontario, The Ministry of Health has announced a pilot program that authorizes paramedics in 33 municipalities to give patients pain medications including opioids such as morphine as well as sedatives. Pain management is a cornerstone of palliative care in addition to helping caregivers cope and learn how to manage the many responsibilities of caring for a loved one nearing the end of life.
Paramedic programs for at-home palliative care will also help to bridge the gap in care for people who have difficulty accessing care because they can’t afford additional paid home-care workers. The pandemic has helped to create more community programs that provide house calls as well as virtual telehealth visits for vulnerable patients who aren’t able to travel to clinics – one of the silver linings in response to COVID-19 that is hopefully here to stay.