According to Tersia Burger, CEO of Stepping Stone Hospice and Care Services in Alberton, “Palliative care is available to anyone who is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and we are increasingly recognising that COVID-19 infections fit within that category.”
Ewa Skowronska, CEO of the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) agrees.
“Palliative care is often understood to be care for the terminally ill. This is not correct. It is the provision of care for people whose life is threatened by a disease.
“Palliative care trained health workers can and are offering specialist support in areas that are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic such as pain and symptom management, communication with families, spiritual support and bereavement counselling. Families and patients often don’t know that they can and should expect holistic support when they are facing life-threatening diseases of any kind.”
HPCA’s 103 member hospices across South Africa who care for patients with a variety of life-threatening diseases, predominantly in the comfort of their own homes, implemented strict Standard Operating Protocols (SOP) early in the pandemic to protect the highly vulnerable patients that they care for.
As the lockdown has continued, some hospices are extending the SOP to offer care for those that have been affected by COVID-19.
Ladies of Hope in Ennerdale, South of Johannesburg is currently in the process of setting up a 14 bed COVID-19 centre in conjunction with three local doctors.
“We received a donation of 7 oxygen concentrators that could help 14 patients at any time,” says Myrtle Williams, CEO of Ladies of Hope. “This centre will be specific in its mandate to house patients with breathing problems that cannot be admitted to hospital.”
“People are ‘broken’ by COVID-19,” says Burger, who has had the virus herself, “and what we are finding is that many need rehabilitative support. Their families are also under stress as everyone suddenly faces mortality and there is a long recovery process in front of those that have been infected.
“Patients who have been in hospital are extremely weak and often suffer from depression and ‘COVID-brain fog’, their families have not been able to see them and they and their families require physical and emotional care that is often outside of the capacity of those that love them. This is another place where hospices can play a significant role.”
Says Skowronska says, “Increasingly, many families need additional support to care for their very sick loved ones from home or when they are not able to access the hospital services that they need. Many are scared to engage with hospitals for fear of infection or losing the ability to communicate with their ill-family member. Hospices are stepping into these gaps.”
There are nine regional hospice associations that are members of the Hospice Palliative Care Association, representing each province in the country. These are located in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State, Northern Cape and the North-West province. The Association of Northern Hospices represents hospices in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
“Hospice is not a building, but a philosophy. It is essentially the desire to promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all living with a life-threatening illness,” concludes Skowronska.
“Hospices deliver palliative care in three main ways — home based care for those that prefer to be at home (and are able to be), hospice community centres (Day Care Centres) for those who are able to travel to central points and at in-patient units for around-the-clock care.
“As our member organisations already deal with diseases such as HIV and TB, we know how to deal with infectious diseases and over the last four months, hospices have not only kept their normal patients safe, but have adapted their services to step up to the frontline with vital assistance.”
For more information on the HPCA or to get involved, please visit the website.