No matter if your house is big, small or doesn’t exist at all, death will still come knocking. For Victoria’s homeless population, this can result in insurmountable suffering as they struggle for end-of-life resources.
That is why the University of Victoria, in partnership with the Victoria Cool Aid Society, Island Health and Victoria Hospice, have come together to create the Palliative Outreach Resource Team (PORT), a mobile team of doctors and nurses aimed at providing and connecting people to end-of-life care.
“Every dying person, no matter their social circumstances, deserves to die with dignity in the presence of those who are about them and without pain,” said Dr. Kelli Stajduhar, lead investigator for PORT for the University of Victoria. “That is our intention with PORT.”
While Stajduhar and her team have been working with the Equity in Palliative Approaches to Care (EPAC) program with the Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health and the School of Nursing since 2013, the PORT program has only been running under a soft launch since July. Since then, the team has supported three deaths, and been referred another 23 people.
“We knew that these individuals were there, we were hearing stories, but now that we’re getting out there and hearing these people,” said Dr. Fraser Black, PORT physician. “We hear them in their cars, we sit outside someone’s tent and talk gently about what it is that’s happening for them… then the conversation turns to that they think they are dying and knowing that they can’t die there, and feeling like they don’t have a choice.”
Black and his co-worker, PORT nurse Katie Leahy try to assess what is important to each individual, whether physical, spiritual, emotional or otherwise, as well as establishing where they would be comfortable dying.
Paige Phillips, health education manager at the SOLID Outreach society, a local group run by and for people who’ve had or currently struggle with substance use, has seen the systemic problems for transient people facing death.
Recently, one of the SOLID family members passed away after writing a make-shift will with the management team for his few possessions, including his favourite jersey and some photos.
After he died, SOLID was unable to legally obtain those possessions, even though his blood family wanted nothing to do with him and renounced his ashes to the society.
“I wanted to express the impact PORT has had on the ground level,” Phillips said.
“It’s given people a choice, it’s given people an opportunity to have death on their own terms, whether that be where they consider home or in a hospital setting and that’s just empowering.”
For the first two years PORT will be financed by Island Health and the Saint Elizabeth Health Community Enterprise, after which UVic will release a report relaying the effects of the program.
People seeking palliative care can be self-referred or referred by a health care professional. For more information you can visit coolaid.org/how-we-help/health-services.