In the light of a recent media report expressing concerns related to the atmosphere alleged to exist within St Luke’s Combined Hospices (St Luke’s) and the quality of care delivered, the board, management and staff felt that it would be useful to inform friends of the organization, other concerned individuals and the broader palliative care community about the real St Luke’s.
St Luke’s Combined Hospices (St Luke’s) was established in 1980 and since then has been providing high quality palliative care, originally in a single premise with a handful of staff. As Cape Town has grown, and more people have come to appreciate the value of palliative care, St Luke’s has grown too. We now have eight community hospices, about 170 employees and a team of 320 dedicated volunteers. Our work extends to partnerships in projects with the Department of Health, such as a Home Based Care service, and a unit for Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, both of which are based in Khayelitsha. Khayelitsha is also home to a community development project funded by a private donor.
In this month alone, our palliative care services are providing care for 441 patients who live across Cape Town. An extraordinary achievement for us is the fact that due to the support of our generous donors, we are able to offer these services free of charge to patients and their families. Not having to worry about financial implications is particularly important at a time of life when families are especially vulnerable, and often emotionally fragile.
In the last few years, we have introduced medical aid payments. However, this is only for patients who have an Advanced Illness Benefit or Oncology Basket schemes, which means it doesn’t affect a family’s Medical Savings Account, nor will a family ever have to make a co-payment. No patient will ever be turned away if they are in need of palliative care.
Often people are unsure about what hospice care has to offer, or even what palliative care is. Understandably, many people fear the word ‘hospice’ because for them it means ‘the end’. Put simply, palliative care is for those who have been told their illness is no longer curable, and thus the focus is on care, quality of life and not cure. We believe that while there may be a limit to cure there is no limit to care. St Luke’s is thus a caring organization focusing on caring for people in need of care.
A person who refers him or herself to St Luke’s will receive a home visit from one of our nurses. Nurses discuss a wide range of issues and talk through the worries that are likely to be top of mind. If a patient has unresolved symptoms, nurses will plan with them to manage these, ensure they are as comfortable as possible, and are able to live life to the fullest. Depending on what concerns are raised in the consultation, they may suggest referral to another professional such as a social worker or spiritual carer. What is unique about palliative care in general and St Luke’s in particular, is that it acknowledges the families, dependents and loved ones who may also require care and support. Anyone who has had a family member or friend in this situation will know how stressful it is for children to watch their parents unwell, or how traumatic it can be for a spouse to experience the change in roles in their relationship.
As one might expect, St Luke’s puts a great deal of thought and effort into recruitment, because what we offer requires very special skills. We are fortunate enough to have a very dedicated team of nurses, social workers, spiritual carers, volunteers, support services staff, and doctors who ensure that every need is met. In the near future, we will be placing a series of posts on our Facebook page, entitled “The Human faces of Hospice”. This is where you can meet members of our team and get to know them better, with a clearer understanding of what training and experience is critical to deliver high quality palliative care.
We have staff and volunteers who have been with us for more than 30 years, and some who have joined us more recently. Each of them has a wide range of experience that makes them highly qualified for their position. For many clinical staff, the hospice is an attractive prospect because it’s one of the opportunities where the ‘whole’ person is assessed and treated, and where staff can spend quality time getting to know a patient.
The value and experience of what we offer and the quality of care is highly rated as evidenced by feedback based on people’s experiences. Our patients express their appreciation, knowing that we listen, and that their needs are being met in the most caring, understanding and gracious way possible. While we appreciate compliments we also welcome constructive criticism from both inside and outside our organization that will enable St Luke’s to become an even better organization in which to work or volunteer in, in the service of our patients.