September 30, 2020

BY CHRIS HUSSEY

Do the next generation of health professionals have the means to care for the dying? With two new programs, Conestoga College might be able to say yes.

The college introduced two certificate programs in the spring designed for registered nurses and personal support workers to give them the skills to provide end-of-life care, otherwise known as palliative care.

The National Cancer Institute website defines palliative care as, “care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease.” It notes that the goal is not to cure any diseases a patient might have but rather to provide comfort and support.

The programs were introduced in an effort to fulfill the growing demand for end-of-life care. Don Wildfong, chair of continuing education and specialty programs at Conestoga College, said most Canadians would prefer to die in their home if the services, like palliative care, were available to them. He added that these services are currently not available to the extent they need to be.

“Conestoga has received a lot of positive feedback on the role we’re playing by putting these two new programs out there,” he said.

The programs were developed in collaboration with Lisaard House, a residential cancer hospice in Cambridge. It’s a six-bed hospice, and struggled to meet the demand for end-of-life care. In fact, in 2013, the hospice was only able to accommodate 147 of the 391 residents who requested care, according to the Lisaard House website.

In an effort to expand its impact, the hospice worked with the college to establish a new residence, Innisfree House, which opened its doors on July 9.

While Lisaard House still operates from Cambridge, Innisfree House sits on Conestoga College land in Kitchener and is a 10-bed hospice. Marlene Raasok, executive dean of the college’s School of Health and Life Sciences and Community Services, said this collaboration provides many benefits for the community. She also said the additional placement opportunities that these programs provide ensure that they are beneficial for students too.

“We can make the programs we have at the Doon campus more impactful because we have real life learning coming from industry,” she said.

Raasok said this might impact more areas of the college beyond these two programs. She listed potential opportunities for media students to do media work for the organizations as one example.
Like many programs at Conestoga College, the programs combine classroom theory with hands-on experience. Students in these programs get direct experience working alongside health professionals within Innisfree House itself, and Wildfong said having an opportunity to work with experts in this setting is invaluable.

Although the programs are still young, they are already being recognized and sought out from outside the community. According to Wildfong, Steadman Community Hospice in Brantford asked the college if they would be able to run the programs directly within their hospice. He said that would start in November.

Raasok said improving end-of-life care for patients who are dying is an important part of care for people in the community.

“We believe we’re able to do a better job of supporting that with these courses,” she said.

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