“I didn’t really think it would be so lively and uplifting, you’d expect because people are dying it’d be depressing”.

As a health service providing specialist palliative care, Calvary Health Care Bethlehem (CHCB) are working to support community capacity & resilience in dealing with life limiting illness, death, dying and bereavement.

Dr Jane Fischer, CEO of Calvary Health Care Bethlehem explains that she has had a passion for palliative care for a long time, “I’ve seen how we can make such a difference to people’s lives…and it’s not just our patients but also family and friends as well”.

Last year, CHCB launched the palliative care video “Embracing Life” to encourage conversations about death and dying with students and community groups.

The video follows the experience of a group of students from Sacred Heart Girl’s College in Oakleigh who spent time at the hospital with patients, staff and volunteers.

The documentary examines how the project changed the student’s views of palliative care, giving them a greater appreciation of life, and increasing their confidence to have conversations about death.

“This experience was surprising, it wasn’t a place where people went to go die. It’s a place where people care about living life to its fullest. It’s definitely not what you think it would be,” said Mimi, a student from Sacred Heart Girl’s College.

Tony Steele is a patient who spent a little over two weeks in CHCB, which he describes as a “very eye opening experience”.

“I spoke to a physiotherapist and she actually said to me ‘you move it or lose it’ and that sort of get me thinking ‘well, I don’t want to die’, even though I’m prepared to die but I’m not going to go without a fight.”

“So I just got up and started taking a couple of steps while I was [at CHCB], and after two weeks I was well enough to come home.”

“I started going to art therapy and it was amazing. I walked in these doors in Bethlehem…and I just felt so calm and just so at ease”.

Another student discovered that “there’s still happiness at that end stage, during our discussions they said ‘until you’re actually dead, you’re not dead’, so you’re still living in your end stage and that’s probably something that I will never forget”.

In 2015 the video was trialled as a classroom resource using volunteer facilitators to year-10 students, as part of their year level well-being lesson and facilitation guides and Resource packs were developed and presented at Education conferences in Melbourne and Sydney in the last year.

The Guide was recently adapted as an Induction Session for new staff and students at Calvary Health Care-Bethlehem and is continuing to receive positive feedback from participants.

This Resource also lends itself to being a means of introducing a Palliative Approach to Residential Aged Care Facilities and to chronic disease Management teams whose clientele –may benefit from early referral to Community Palliative Care Services.

For School and Community groups, where conversations about death can be difficult – and for Health Services, where understanding and adjusting to a Palliative Model of Care can be challenging; this resource encourages essential conversations, and emphasizes the importance of ‘Communities of Support’ in maximising well-being & Quality-of-Life.

This resource is available for schools, Health & Community groups from Mary Hocking at Calvary Health Care Bethlehem. 03 9596 2853.

La Trobe University has been involved in the ongoing evaluation of this project. Preliminary responses having been “overwhelmingly positive” suggesting that “students developed a deeper understanding of death and palliative care, a greater appreciation of life, and increased confidence to have conversations about death”.

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