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Peninsula Home Hospice provides training and guidance to Vasey RSL Care staff during one of their monthly Palliative Care Needs Rounds. Picture: Supplied

Collaborative palliative care pilot project empowers aged care staff

Two Victorian aged care providers are changing the way they deliver end of life care. Peninsula Home Hospice and Vasey RSL Care Frankston South have joined forces on a pilot project that focuses on the education and empowerment of staff, ensuring all residents have the opportunity to die with dignity.

The project centres around the establishment of a significant collaboration between residential aged care providers and local community palliative teams, which are comprised of a nurse consultant, counselor, and specialist palliative physician.

Under the project, the palliative care teams are able to provide ongoing support, advice and training so that aged care staff can confidently deliver end of life care within their facility, improving resident experience and reducing hospital admissions.

The project has introduced monthly Palliative Care Needs Rounds within residential facilities. At these meetings aged care staff present their concerns and work collaboratively with nurses and GPs to discuss individual goals of care and how to provide effective medication and symptom management.

Chief of Peninsula Home Hospice Janet Phillips says the Needs Rounds have been successful in providing more residents with a peaceful and planned death.

"[The Needs Round is] a great opportunity to learn from them but also for them to learn from us. It's this really strong working relationship, and the outcome is that we've seen a huge reduction in residents in aged care facilities bouncing into emergency departments unnecessarily," she said.

"That's a huge cost saving, if someone is not presenting to an emergency department, and people are actually able to die peacefully and with dignity in their preference for place of death, which is usually in the aged care facility that is their home."

Vasey RSL Care clinical quality manager Lisa O'Driscoll says she has seen a massive improvement in the confidence and skills of her staff since the project started.

"Just because a nurse works in residential aged care does not mean they can provide specialist palliative care. If there's a resident with really complex needs, they require more specialist palliative care involvement," she said.

"We were seeing that some staff lacked the confidence to make the call to GPs to say, 'this is my assessment, this is what I feel the resident needs'.

"By empowering them to make those phone calls and make those decisions, the residents are getting the right care at the right time. And we've been able to do that because we've got more forward thought about what this person might be experiencing."

This model of collaborative has been lifted some of the weight from the shoulders of palliative care specialists like Peninsula Home Hospice.

"It's always been a really challenging area for palliative care services like ourselves," Ms Phillips said.

"We cover a particular catchment, so we are looking at quite a vast population with just over 60 aged care facilities that we would cover, and we currently don't have the funding to provide the specialist palliative care support that's needed.

"The [Needs Rounds] model is really about empowering the staff working in aged care facilities to provide palliative care."

The partnership began in November 2023 and will continue for 12 months.

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