New program the first of its kind to boost understanding about death and dying

Presenter Rachael Zielinksi (centre) with participants Corinne Bozsoky (left) and Melanie Gould at a Last Days workshop in October

A new program aimed at boosting understanding of death and dying has been launched by HammondCare. The Last Days program is the first in-person, community-focused course that provides practical and effective education to improve knowledge and confidence for those caring for someone in their last days, weeks, or months of life.

The program builds on a successful pilot in 2021, where all participants agreed that the training had increased their awareness and understanding of what to expect when someone is dying. The Last Days program will be launched in Northern Sydney in March through a collaboration with the Sydney North Primary Health Network. In-person workshops and online sessions will be offered over the next few months.

The program is designed to provide practical skills and knowledge to improve death literacy for those caring for a loved one nearing the end of life. The program is aimed at enabling early communication and decision-making about end-of-life preferences, as well as equipping families and community-based carers to be better prepared for what to expect during the dying process from a physical and symptom management perspective.

HammondCare General Manager Health and Hospitals, Andrew Montague, said that the Last Days program was part of HammondCare’s long-term palliative care strategy to ensure that more people have the choice and opportunity to live their lives to the very end with peace and dignity.

The program is open to health, community, and aged care organizations that may want to deliver the program to the people they support. The Last Days program aims to provide practical support resources and services to help cope with emotions and grief during the last phase of life and bereavement after death.

HammondCare Clinical Nurse Palliative Care Specialist, Rachael Zielinski, one of the experts who developed and will present some of the programs, said, “We hope the program will provide a place to reflect and discuss death and dying, breaking down notions that preparing for the end of life is technical, private and hidden.”

Melanie Gould, who participated in the 2021 pilot, highly recommended the program, saying, “The session really brings home what awaits during the final days of life of someone you care for.” Gould, whose 49-year-old friend died recently after a lengthy illness, said that there were practical tools and advice on available resources to assist at various steps of the palliative care process.

The Last Days program is an essential initiative to empower families, carers, and health professionals with the tools and skills needed to navigate the end-of-life journey with compassion, care, and understanding. It is hoped that the program will become more widely available and accessible to those who need it in the near future.

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