Creating Comfort When There is No Cure

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It takes a different approach to medicine to treat patients who are living out their final months, weeks and days. While most fields of medicine work to save lives, palliative care helps patients when medical needs turn from cure to care. As a leader in the field, Mount Sinai Hospital’s Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care employs 25 health-care professionals who work in hospital and at home to help improve quality of death, as much as quality of life, in times of need. The Centre believes that everyone has the right to die with dignity, in the place of their choosing, surrounded by the people they love.

“On an individual basis, we help patients and their families discuss goals of care in a comforting environment,” says Dr. Russell Goldman, Director, Temmy Latner Centre and Leader, Max and Beatrice Wolfe Children’s Centre. “On a much bigger scale, we are relieving a system already operating at capacity.”

Today, 80 per cent of the Centre’s palliative care is carried out through home care practice, which is unique among other hospitals in the area. Approximately 1,200 patients from across the GTA are referred to the palliative care program each year.  With over 20 physicians on the roster, patients can be seen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Hospital is a real leader in this area, partnering with the Community Care Access Centre team.

The Temmy Latner Centre also provides programs for children.  There are two main types of children affected by death – those who are suffering from a terminal illness, or children who have had a parent or sibling die. The Wolfe Children’s Centre is funded entirely by donors and offers children and their families counselling and activities. 

Young children participate in art and theatre activities that help externalize their emotions.  Older children can participate in a teen leadership group, with many joining the Leaders in Training program at Camp Erin, a once-a-year camp for bereaved children.  The Centre also offers special events tied to holidays. In December more than 130 children and their families came together to decorate gingerbread houses, reconnect with staff from the Centre, meet other children who understand their loss, to play, and to make space to honour their sadness.

“We try to help families understand how important it is to include children in the process rather than push them aside before or during the death of their parent or sibling,” says Counsellor Andrea Warnick. “Also we teach the power of language.  They haven’t ‘lost’ mom.  Kids lose things all the time and find them the next day.”

“When I started in 1995, there were five physicians at the Centre.  Now we have over five times the support,” said Dr. Goldman.  “We are meeting the demand and leading the care in the community.”

The Temmy Latner Centre is one of the largest palliative care programs in Canada. The Centre’s staff are international leaders in end-of-life care and are committed to advancing knowledge in palliative care, offering new treatment options and constantly working to improve their services.