New palliative care centre for cancer patients opens in Toronto

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Visitors entering the new Harold and Shirley Lederman Palliative Care Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital know immediately this is no ordinary hospital unit.

From the inviting beige wood entrance, to the etched-glass photos of soothing nature scenes along the walls, the new centre was planned and built to set a new standard of palliative care. As Ontario’s first academic palliative care unit in a comprehensive cancer centre, the idea was to construct not only an aesthetically pleasing centre, but also one that epitomized a philosophy of care centred around the needs of patients and their families.

The patient rooms have ledges and other areas that allow an individual to personalize his or her surroundings and make them feel more like home. A bedside chair can be pulled out into a small cot so a guest can stay at the patient’s side during the evenings. A special family room allows visitors to take a break and even fix a quick snack in the kitchenette.

“Rather than design a unit around the delivery of medical care, we started with a philosophy that puts the patients and their families first,” said Dr. Gary Rodin, head of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Princess Margaret Hospital, University Health Network. “This philosophy is seen in the aesthetic nature of the centre, and also in the way our palliative care team interacts with patients and their families.”

The 12-bed centre officially opened in July 2003, and has already served hundreds of palliative cancer patients. It was funded in part by donations and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Since opening, the centre has seen a shift in focus from providing inpatient care to those in the final weeks of their lives, to more palliative patients coming in for short stays for treatment of their symptoms or complications associated with their cancer.

“These services allow the palliative patients to remain independent longer, and keep them from ending up in already-crowded emergency departments or intensive care units,” said Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, head of Palliative Care Services at Princess Margaret Hospital and University Health Network. “Palliative cancer patients need special treatment for pain management, as well as psychological and social support for the journey ahead of them.”

The centre uses a multidisciplinary approach to care that combines Nursing, Physiotherapy, Social Work, Chaplaincy, and other disciplines. The palliative care team also gets involved early with the patients so that there is a seamless flow of treatment and support. Even after a patient’s death, the team may stay involved to assist the family with issues of bereavement.

Another important aspect of the Harold and Shirley Lederman Palliative Care Centre is its academic role. The centre will become the training ground for future generations of health-care workers who will be dealing with the increasing demands of palliative care, said Dr. Rodin. It will also offer the opportunity of continuing education for health-care professionals who wish to gain more knowledge and skills in palliative care.

Research, which has long been overlooked in the past, will be a key component of the academic side of the centre. “Palliative care is a relatively new academic field that is still developing,” said Dr. Rodin. “More research is needed to improve the best practices for palliative care and ensure that patients and their families receive the support they need during this difficult time.”

Princess Margaret Hospital and its research arm, Ontario Cancer Institute, have achieved an international reputation as global leaders in the fight against cancer. Princess Margaret Hospital is a member of the University Health Network, which also includes Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. All three are teaching hospitals affiliated with the University of Toronto.