Dying and death are not the easiest topics to broach, but that’s exactly what over 100 professionals from different fields discussed at a palliative care conference hosted by Cayman HospiceCare recently.
The two-day conference drew a diverse range of participants including doctors, nurses, ministers of religion, pharmacists, funeral directors, administrators, counsellors, lab technicians and politicians.
Opening the conference at the Marriott Beach Resort, HospiceCare Medical Director Dr. Virginia Hobday said it is important to recognise death as a natural and inevitable part of life.
‘We must be careful that in our zeal to cure we do not become overly concerned with futile interventions,’ she told participants.
The conference saw HospiceCare team up with Florida’s Baptist Health, which brought with them internationally recognised experts in the field of palliative care.
A module named ‘goals of care’ examined what palliative care is and also what it is not, explained Jennifer Grant-McCarthy, HospiceCare’s manager and fundraising coordinator. Another session on pain management taught participants how to assess pain and learn to think outside the box in treating it.
‘Every individual has individual needs and requires individual care,’ she explained.
The conference’s second day began with a module on communicating bad news. While some of the content was clinical in nature, ‘sessions such as ‘communicating bad news’ are as effective for a pastor, parliamentarian or administrator as they are for a doctor or nurse,’ Mrs. Grant-McCarthy noted.
‘The purpose and benefit of the conference is not just at the medical level; it’s at a human level.’
The conference came to a close with a unit on withholding and withdrawing treatment from a terminally-ill patient. ‘It examined making informed decisions and giving the family and patient the right to choose what they want to do,’ said Mrs. Grant-McCarthy.
‘Some people choose to fight to the absolute last second with all forms of evasive treatment, some patients choose not to. We looked how to go about asking the right questions to find out what people truly want for themselves.’
Feedback on the event has so far been overwhelmingly positive, Mrs. Grant-McCarthy said, with comments such as ‘long overdue’, ‘when is the next one’ and ‘can you bring this to the Brac’ common.
‘Invariably human beings want to help each other when they see each other in pain – it’s pretty instinctive,’ she continued. ‘But without some sort of education and information, in trying to help, we very often say or do the wrong thing.’
Formed in Cayman over 10 years ago, HospiceCare typically cares for 70 to 100 patients every year and around 20 to 30 at any one time. All services are provided free of charge, but, as Mrs. Grant-McCarthy pointed out, ‘to operate HospiceCare is not free,’ with annual costs coming in at over half a million dollars.
With just over 10 per cent of funding coming from government, the organisation is almost entirely dependent on the generosity of the community and on its army of over 200 volunteers – most of whom decide to volunteer after being on the receiving end of assistance from the organisation.
Speaking at the conference’s opening, Ms Hobday pointed out that 75 per cent of HospiceCare patients pass away in their own homes. But as Mrs. Grant-McCarthy pointed out, location is just one of many factors in helping bring about what the organisation refers to as a beautiful death.
‘Sometimes it’s not about the location; it’s about being able to complete relationships; being able to say the things that really matter or being able to facilitate them having the conversations they have never really been able to have.
‘There are many ways of looking at it.’