Canada: Families shouldering burden as home care dwindles for dying patients

by Simon Gardner, CBC News, 12 December 2016

When Canada legalised euthanasia earlier this year, it did so on the promise that people would have access to high-quality palliative care. i

Mr Gardner, however, reports that home-based palliative care in Ottawa is “overwhelmed by the needs we have and the requests we have”.

Rose Steenbakkers grew up in Saskatchewan, and even in her weakened condition, a certain no-nonsense Prairie spirit shines through.

“My hair has been coming out in clumps,” the 78-year-old states matter-of-factly.

Like her hair, Steenbakkers has also watched her independence fall away, her energy diminish. She’s rail-thin, and now has to rely on her adult children for her most basic needs, including help going to the toilet.

“I’m trying to get my legs moving, but I just don’t have the strength anymore,”  she said.

Steenbakkers is in the last stages of her life. She agreed to speak in the hope that telling her story may help others.

“My motivation is to see if we can put some kind of better care into place so it takes some of the burden off the family.”

Both her palliative care physician and her children say Steenbakkers needs more attention. But she happens to be dying at a time when provincial funding for home care in the Ottawa region is temporarily running dry.

Dr. Paul Hacker said Steenbakkers is just one of his patients who’s not getting enough non-medical support.

“It puts a lot of stress on everybody,” Hacker said. “It puts stress on the caregiver who may not be physically able to do everything that they are supposed to be doing … and it puts stress on the patient because they see the difficulty their caregiver and family is having.

Hacker said about two months ago the Champlain Community Care Access Centre informed him and other palliative care doctors that it would have to cut back on personal support worker hours.

The reduction means patients who may not have long to live are being placed on a waiting list for sufficient home care.

Mrs Steenbakkers died on 12 December.

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