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What Mob Sometimes Misunderstand About “Palliative Care”

By Awhiora Nia Nia

GEGAC’s Executive Director Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing

Last week was National Palliative Care Week, and as part of our ongoing learning on this topic I travelled to Melbourne with my colleague here at GEGAC, Sharona Pearce, to attend Palliative Care Victoria’s annual Palliative and Aged Care Conference.

It is a known fact that the majority of First Nations People don’t access mainstream palliative care services.

There is some stigma attached with palliative care, in that there is a general belief in community that palliative care is just about dying, for somebody at their “End of Life” phase.

In fact, palliative care is more about quality of life supports, improving and making the most out of a person’s life, and not just end of life supports.

For Aboriginal people it can be uncomfortable to be discussing death and dying, and it is vital that supporting agencies have an understanding of this and that responses in this space are culturally responsive and appropriate, in order to not be unnecessarily adding to a person’s distress.

There is an acknowledgement in the palliative care sector that improvements must be made to how we engage Aboriginal people and families with the conversations and practices of palliative care.

It is not uncommon to refer to death and dying as sorry business, sad business, finishing up, final days, final footsteps/final footprints, journey, pathway or going back home or to the dreaming.

Similarly, the term ’palliative care’ is not easily translated in the many and diverse languages spoken in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The very first presentation at the conference last week was “Culturally Safe and appropriate, trauma-informed, holistic and high-quality care: Addressing the gaps in policy and practice.”

We found it very interesting to learn about the work that Rumbalara has done in partnership with Palliative Care Victoria, which offered some further insight into best practice in increasing access to culturally safe palliative care, in residential age care facilities which can also be utilized in community aged care services.

What was heavily emphasized during the conference was the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access quality palliative and supportive care that is consistent with their wishes, when and where they need it, no matter where they live, and that culturally safe and appropriate palliative care must incorporate the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the individual, their family and the community.

Whilst GEGAC Aged Care services is not contracted to deliver palliative care, we are always looking to learn and improve our responsiveness in this space as we continue to explore with community over the coming months how we can be doing things better in our own Elders and independent living services, whilst also ensuring that where the community is needing palliative care supports that we are able to appropriately support their needs.