Art for Relaxation for patient wellbeing

Image: Patients Susan Fardon, art teacher Maureen Nicholas and Carol Westwood.

Murdoch Community Hospice observed Palliative Care Week from May 21 to 28 by holding an art show exhibiting works created by hospice inpatients and outpatients.

Day Coordinator Hospice Services Kathy Parr said the idea behind the exhibition was to give patients something other than their illness to focus on.

“We wanted to showcase the artwork our patients have done over the past 18 months and also show the incredible progress they had made,” Kathy said.

“Not only did their artistic abilities improve, the process also has a hugely positive impact on their wellbeing.”

The hospice has been running Art for Relaxation for palliative care patients for the last 18 months, with volunteer Maureen Nicholas, a retired art teacher, leading the project.

Originally intended as a relaxation therapy for patients, some have found it has come to hold a greater meaning for them.

“It’s given me a sense of purpose whenever I’m feeling down about my illness,” Carol Westwood said.

She and fellow patient Susan Fardon say they feel very proud about their work, and that it has inspired them to be creative in their healing.

With participants in the program having such a positive experience, it’s not hard to see why 70 people have taken the time to get creative since its inception.

“Art can really have a role in the healing process and Palliative Care Week was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate this,” Kathy said.

Benchmarking tool puts hospice at top

Some of the team at St John of God Murdoch Community Hospice

St John of God Murdoch Community Hospice is one of six services across Australia to achieve outstanding results against Australian benchmarks for palliative care.

Director Hospice and Palliative Medicine Services Alison Parr said the team has worked together to achieve this result through the benchmarks set and measured by the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC), a national program that helps service providers improve their care.

“I am extremely proud of our team and the excellent quality care they offer our patients and their families,” Dr Parr said.

“Our focus is on alleviating distress at the end of life and this tool helps us to ensure appropriate and timely responses to patient needs.”

The PCOC benchmarking process involves medical professionals scoring various aspects of patient’s wellbeing daily, and in the case of Murdoch Hospice, three times per day, to ascertain if treatment needs adjusting or team resources need reallocating. The scores assess the patient’s symptom, psychological and family and carer distress to determine any patterns.

PCOC then collates the data and benchmarks them against other inpatient hospice facilities of a similar size.

“This benchmarking system has enabled us to identify areas of patient care that needed attention so that we can deliver a service that focusses on the whole person – their physical, social, psychological and spiritual being, as well as their families.”

One of the areas in which the Hospice excelled was taking care of the needs of families and carers.

“If the family is coping well, then the patient tends to do better too,” Dr Parr said.

“There is evidence that demonstrates when families are supported appropriately during their loved one’s illness and death, they have better outcomes in bereavement too.”

The Hospice also scored well on how well their staff work together as a team.

“We have a strong multi-disciplinary approach to care in which our nurses, doctors and allied health professionals communicate often with each other and with the patient and their family to ensure that a patient-centred management plan is in place, addressing all aspects of need.”

“High quality clinical care, combined with counselling, social work, pastoral care and our Footprints Day Centre, which offers complementary therapies, diversional activities, relaxation, time out and someone to talk to, work towards giving our patients and their families the best possible experience during challenging times.”

“For some groups of patients, specialist palliative care intervention has been shown to improve prognosis for patients by as much as chemotherapy can too.”

The Murdoch Community Hospice is an integrated service that works closely with St John of God Murdoch Hospital to ensure the transition to hospice care is seamless. The team is planning to share its successful practices with other similar facilities.

Palliative care nurse advocates right to die with dignity

Frances sitting outside the hospital celebrating Pongala, a Hindu festival in which millions of women line the streets of the city and make payasum (similar to a sweet porridge dessert) as an offering for the gods. The payasum is blessed by priests and shared among everyone.

Frances sitting outside the hospital celebrating Pongala, a Hindu festival in which millions of women line the streets of the city and make payasum (similar to a sweet porridge dessert) as an offering for the gods. The payasum is blessed by priests and shared among everyone.

A St John of God Murdoch Hospital nurse spent three months in India using and sharing her experience to care for those without access to quality health care.

Frances Carman, who works at the Murdoch Community Hospice, is a passionate advocate for a dignified end to life.

“It is a human right for every person to die a dignified and painless death, although in India, where palliative care isn’t always recognised as a health care specialty, it is difficult for this to occur,” Frances says.

Frances volunteered with Pallium India, a charity in Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. The foundation is the result of the tireless efforts of Dr M.R. Rajagopal, known affectionately as the father of palliative care, and the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to providing care to those who are dying.

Pallium operates from an old hospital at which staff meet every morning before visiting nearby villages, which can range from fishing villages to rubber plantations to mountain communities.

Half of the patients Frances visited had cancer, others were paralysed due to motorbike accidents or falling out of coconut trees and many had chronic respiratory, cardiac and renal conditions.

“Some patients lived below the poverty line, with no electricity or running water, others were well educated families with relatives overseas,” Frances says.

“We taught family members how to make their own saline for wound irrigation, hoist devices with ropes from the roof to help them pull themselves up and pressure relieving devices made from gloves filled with water, as some patients sleep on wooden bed frames with no mattresses.”

In addition to treating patients, Frances helped nurses with their patient assessments and gave workshops and lectures on palliative care.

Hospice Nurse Manager Glenys Joplin says the trip presented a wonderful opportunity for Frances to apply her skills from working at the Murdoch Community Hospice to those in need.

“We are so fortunate in Australia to have ready access to all medical services, the vast majority in India are not so fortunate, particularly in a heavily privatised health care system,” Glenys says.

Frances says the most rewarding aspects far outweighed any challenges of the trip and she was humbled and encouraged to see the way the staff enthusiastically changed their practice.

“This trip further reignited my passion for access to and delivery of palliative care,” Frances says.

“It’s such an important area of health care, just as the start of life is a wonderful and powerful moment, so too is end of life care.”

“Everyone has the right to die with dignity and peace.”


Visits from pooches brings smiles

Don and Helen Fleming and their dogs, Missy and Eva bring joy to patients and their families at the Murdoch Community Hospice.

Don and Helen Fleming and their dogs, Missy and Eva bring joy to patients and their families at the Murdoch Community Hospice.

Volunteers from the not-for-profit organisation Animal Companions bring their dogs to the Murdoch Community Hospice each week to give patients some joy and comfort.

Husband and wife team Don and Helen Fleming bring their Labradors Missy and Eva to provide a positive distraction for patients.

“We really appreciate the opportunity afforded to us to spend time lifting a person’s spirits, even if it is only for a short while,” Don says.

“The “girls”, as we call them, get heaps of attention and affection, often not only from the patients, but also hospice staff, family members and friends who are visiting when we arrive.”

Day Hospice Services Coordinator Kathy Parr says the service is very much appreciated by patients and their families.

“We really see a difference in people when the dogs come through the doors,” Kathy says.

“They bring joy and levity in what is a difficult time in people’s lives.”

Animal Companions visits facilities throughout the Perth metropolitan area. The majority of facilities are Retirement Centres, but visits are also made to palliative care facilities, psychiatric units, schools, treatment centres and hospitals.

The dogs are screened, vaccinated and trained to ensure they have what it takes to visit these facilities.

Please visit for more information on Animal Companions in Perth.

Making a difference to cancer patients’ lives

Kathy Parr with patients and volunteers from Look Good…Feel BetterSt John of God Murdoch Hospital was awarded the WA Venue of the Year by community service program Look Good… Feel Better for the second time in three years.

Look Good… Feel Better is dedicated to teaching cancer patients how to manage the changes to skin, hair and general appearance that may occur as an effect of cancer treatment.

Coordinator Footprints Day Centre Kathy Parr says 10 to 20 women attend the free sessions held at the seminar room at the Murdoch Community Hospice each month.

“These women often arrive feeling quite anxious, but within a short period of time, their anxiety turns to chatter and laughter thanks to the expertise of the volunteers running the sessions,” said Ms Parr.

“We have supported Look Good…Feel Better for many years and we look forward to continuing to help them provide this wonderful service to our community.”