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Nursing homes provide palliative care for older persons in Bogotá

Author: Dr Katherine Irene Pettus, Advocacy Officer, IAHPC
23 August 2017

Although the dominant culture in Colombia traditionally values familial care for dependent elders, that culture is being eroded by the modern imperative of small families where both parents work and also care for small children.

Care is becoming increasingly professionalised, subsidized through an agglomeration of public and private entities, from insurance companies to faith based organisations.

I was privileged to visit a couple of these nursing homes when I was in Bogotá for a palliative care advocacy workshop hosted by the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care and the two Colombian national palliative care organisations, ASOCUPAC and ACCP,  Asociación Cuidados Paliativos de Colombia.

Dra Maria Lucia Samudio, a palliative care physician who specialises in geriatrics, was my expert guide around the two nursing homes.

Both Dra Maria Lucia, and Dra Mercedes Franco, a psychologist located in Cáli, who founded a palliative care foundation that works with the most marginalised populations, are involved with the Colombia Compassionate Communities, Todos Contigo.

Representatives of these Compassionate Communities can participate in the Agenda 2030 High Level Political Forum in 2018, which will consider Goal #11, among others, concerning sustainable cities. 

Since the 'Todos Contigo' project includes the provision of community based palliative care, which will be a novelty for the High Level Political Forum, it will be great to hear the Colombian colleagues present at the UN next year.

At the two nursing homes we visited – one of which was state subsidised, the other run by a lay Catholic organisation and funded by donations – the staff were welcoming, the patients appeared to receive meticulous attention, and everything was clean. 

Both facilities, like most nursing homes, are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes staff don’t get paid on time, and there is strong competition for scarce resources. They still maintained an atmosphere of loving, patient centered care, though. Families were visibly welcome, providing care and attention to relatives and friends.

According to my companion, Colombia is considering a law similar to Costa Rica’s Ley de Cuidadoras, which pays caregivers a basic income. Of course, this is key to achieving several of the Agenda 2030 Goals, including #4 Quality Education, and #5, gender empowerment.

Since the chronic care facility is located in a beautiful historic part of Bogotá, none of its essential and exterior features can be remodeled.

While it can be a tedious and expensive proposition to maintain an old building, there are some benefits, such as the sunroom, where patients and families can come and enjoy some daylight and socialisation.

The gorgeous old chapel is the only part of the interior that has not been remodelled. It contains C17 paintings of the Annunciation and St.Catherine of Sienna (patron saint of the sick), which hang under the original latilla and plaster ceiling.

The second facility we visited was only for older adults with palliative care needs. Of 26 patients, 23 had dementia diagnoses. When operating at full strength a few years ago, they had around double the number of older adults, and also had children, so it was a multi-generational care home.  

The children and abuelos together painted the mural at the top of this post, on the occasion of the first World Hospice and Palliative Care Day in 2005.

The bedrooms are beautifully kept, and as homelike as possible with keepsakes in every one for a family-like atmosphere.

I met Señor L. in the dining room, after all the 'abuelos' (grandparents) as the staff called them, had lunched. Not a dementia patient himself, he had lost his wife to cancer and dementia a few months previously. Their family photo, hung with a rosary, is on the wall of his room, which used to be theirs.

The topic of palliative care for older persons will be on the agenda of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing next year at the United Nations, and IAHPC and WHPCA welcome all palliative care team providers to submit their stories, photos, and videos (with permission of the elders of course) for a special series of articles on ehospice focusing on palliative care for older persons.  

We are beginning to gather a body of evidence from all our partners in many countries regarding the state of palliative and long term care for older persons.

We are planning a campaign to promote this very exciting and timely topic at the Open Ended Working Group in July 2018, including side events, expert panels, and testimony of civil society providers of palliative care for older persons. 

We invite you to join us and submit your stories! Email your contributions to Kate Jackson, ehospice international editor k.jackson@ehospice.com or Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer kpettus@iahpc.com.

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. It is reproduced with permission. 

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