Jean Echlin is a prominent palliative care activist and nurse consultant in Windsor, Ont. She currently works as an adjunct associate professor at the Faculty of Nursing in University of Windsor. Photo courtesy of deVeber Institute

Palliative care cash starts to flow in Ontario

  • March 11, 2015

After years of repeated delays and lack of communication, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has finally announced that money for its on-call palliative care program is on its way.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) recently spoke out about its frustrations with the ministry as palliative care physicians continue to work on-call duty for free. Dr. Darren Cargill, a palliative care physician in Windsor, Ont., has been waiting for funding for his team for almost two years.

“We have yet to be told why the delays occurred,” he said in a statement to The Catholic Register. “These deals were an unnecessary distraction from what really matters. We are now turning our full attention back where it belongs, which is on our patients.”

In April 2013, the ministry promised to allocate $5 million per year to cover the on-call fees of up to 30 palliative care teams across the province. There are currently 26 groups approved for the program, each entitled to about $172,000 per year.

Physicians were told to start providing care, as the OMA and the Ministry of Health worked to organize the complicated details of the program.

Last fall, a final agreement was signed and OMA expected the money to soon come. However, it wasn’t until the program attracted media attention in recent weeks that the ministry came into action.

The Community Palliative Care On-Call Program (CPOC) was created in 2011 to support after-hours coverage for in-home palliative care patients, reduce unnecessary emergency hospital visits and to provide support to patients’ families. Care can range from telephone support to home visits.

“There are 168 hours in a week and 128 of those occur outside regular business hours,” said Cargill. “This program gives patients, families and caregivers access to an on-call physician after hours in the community.”

Many in the palliative care field believe this program has been a long time coming.

“You didn’t not take a call from somebody who is your patient,” said Jean Echlin, a palliative care nurse consultant in Windsor. “You don’t take the weekend off when you’ve got somebody in pain or who is close to the end of life. It was just a given.”

Echlin is the former executive director at the Hospice of Windsor. In the 1980s she helped develop the hospice’s palliative care program and also worked as its first nurse co-ordinator.

Now as a nursing professor at the University of Windsor, Echlin said to move forward, medical training in this specialty should start at the undergraduate level.

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