Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative care brings personal touch

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Mount Sinai Hospital’s Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, the largest community-based program in Canada, celebrated its grand opening in January in its first “purpose-designed space” – a major coup for a program that had just one physician less than two decades ago.

More than 120 people, many personally touched by the impact of palliative care, gathered recently to honour the Hospital’s continuing efforts, and to show their support for this invaluable, community-focused resource.

The Centre, now in its permanent home on the fourth floor of the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Building, a satellite campus of Mount Sinai located at 60 Murray Street, is dedicated to relieving suffering and improving quality of life for people in the end stages of life.

Palliative care combines active and compassionate therapies, and is aimed at reducing the symptoms and suffering of patients and families facing a life-threatening illness. It strives to meet physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs, while remaining sensitive to personal, cultural and religious values, beliefs and practices.

At any one time, the Centre is involved in the care of more than 600 patients at home, as well as providing consultative services in the Hospital. On an annual basis, the Centre looks after more than 2,500 patients and their families. Mount Sinai is also currently expanding its children’s palliative care program, which will offer grief education and support to children who are experiencing the loss of a loved one, and provide palliative care to children throughout Toronto.

“Palliative care is a very important part of healthcare delivery and, in my view, a commitment to palliative care is a reflection of the values that are integral to humanistic society, community and the hospital,” said Joseph Mapa, President and CEO of Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s reflected here through the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care and we are very proud.”

Palliative care, an infant in the healthcare system, grew up in the crucible of cancer in the late 1970s in Canada as a movement directed towards better pain control. This concept has rapidly evolved, explained Dr. Larry Librach, director of the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care.

“You can’t just be narrowly focused on pain or symptoms alone,” said Dr. Librach, who got involved in palliative care after seeing many patients suffer unnecessarily. “You’re dealing with people who are dying, people who have all these other needs. I think we’ve evolved in the way we have to meet those needs.

“It’s OK to be fearful about death and dying, but our role is to provide comfort, to support dignity, and to relieve suffering.”

The Centre’s Psychosocial Spiritual team includes social workers, counsellors, art therapists and chaplains. This group works with patients to help them learn how to live with a life-threatening illness, how to manage the complex decision-making associated with end of life care, and how to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, while staying life-focused.

“Preparing patients for death by providing comprehensive palliative care as early in the illness trajectory as possible helps to reduce their anxiety, depression and grief. Ultimately, this can keep them out of the hospital longer. It helps them understand their illness,” said Dr. Librach, adding it also aids the grieving process for their family.

An aging population and a growing prevalence of cancer have contributed to the expansion of palliative care services. The general public also has an increasing awareness of the options for care at the end of life, which has helped develop community-focused care programs.

“There are many people who want to stay at home to die and live pain-free,” said Dr. Librach. “Those are the people we serve.”

Albert Latner’s wife, Temmy, was one of them. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992, she was able to die in the comfort of her own home with the support of her family and Mount Sinai’s palliative care team, including Dr. Frank Ferris, said Mr. Latner, a Toronto businessman.

“We were all touched by [Dr. Ferris’] compassion and concern and by the amount of time he would take, caring for and being with my wife, at the same time responding to our needs as a family,” he said.

“In addition to managing Temmy’s pain and other symptoms, there were needs of the family. The need for help and support in coping with trauma on an almost daily basis,” he said. “People should be able to die at home if they choose, and with the care and support they need.”