Austin Health Palliative Care

Austin Health Palliative Care is located in the northeast of Melbourne. The service provides comprehensive interdisciplinary care for patients with advanced and progressive illness and with a limited life expectancy, and their families. Their consultancy service and Palliative Care Unit (PCU) work closely with each other and with community palliative care providers.

The PCU provides pain and symptom control, carer respite, end-of-life care, psychosocial and spiritual support for patients and their families, and bereavement services. It has 17 funded beds and the capacity to care for 24 patients. In 2009-10 there were 469 admissions to the unit and patients had an average length of stay of 12.17 days.

A key strength of the staff at the PCU is their ability to explore patient options and incorporate complementary and alternative therapies with traditional medicine. The philosophy is to support patients to die in their place of choice. Although the PCU can be an intense, intimate environment, staff also enjoy a good laugh. They get great satisfaction from ensuring patient and family psychosocial and emotional health and wellbeing are the focus of care. The PCU is proud of its holistic approach to care. Examples of this approach include cleansing the ward through the use of sage, frankincense and a Tibetan singing bowl; and plans to research how patients respond to the use of complementary therapies in a medical environment. Staff recognise that they need to be well within themselves if they are to provide best-practice wellness care to patients and families.

Recently a patient, who believed in alternative therapy and had rarely accessed traditional medicine, was admitted for symptom management. Through demonstrating respect for her beliefs staff at the PCU built trust and when the patient returned home to finish off a few things she said ‘I need to go home but I’ll be back’. Three days later she was re-admitted for end-of-life care. Staff were proud that the patient felt confident that her needs would be met.

The PCU has offered PEPA placements for several years now and staff at the PCU say they ‘love it’. PEPA provides an opportunity to showcase the PCU’s commitment to providing excellent care that is tailored to the patient’s unique needs and desires. Staff report that they feel proud when participants are inspired to use the palliative approach when they return to their own workplace. The PCU staff believe that the links created between generalist health professionals and the PCU can only benefit patient care. The PCU is particularly keen to build stronger links with the large Aboriginal community who live in, and around the area. Aboriginal Health Workers are encouraged to complete PEPA placements at the unit and reverse-PEPA options are currently being explored.

Michelle Hooke

Nurse Unit Manager, Palliative Care Unit

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