By Kirk Starratt
Terminally ill patients at home have all the drugs they need to kill the pain, but they might starve to death.
Murray Salsman of the Margaret Salsman Cancer Care Memorial Fund said they recently provided some financial help to Seana Collins of Wolfville, who had to leave work to look after her terminally ill husband, Balfour.
Balfour wanted to die at home with his family, but was unable to because they couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for the tube feeding supplements he required. Salsman said many people have expressed concern over this.
“Many can’t afford to die at home,” Salsman said. “It’s disgusting, I think it’s wrong.”
He said many people don’t consider that you still have to pay to live if you’re terminally ill, and you still have your normal bills, whether you’re able to work or not. He’d like to see the province help out by paying for tube feeding supplements for patients wishing to stay in their own home.
“It probably wouldn’t cost them more than a couple hundred thousand per year,” Salsman said. “It’s time something is done about it.”
Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson said they have to choose as a government what to fund.
“It’s important for palliative care patients to have choices about where they spend their final days and we chose to reduce the financial burden by ensuring those receiving palliative care at home receive 100 per cent drug coverage at no cost,” Wilson said.
He said they’re working to improve healthcare for all Nova Scotians. Wilson has brought the tube feeding supplement matter to department staff for further consideration.
“This issue is a sensitive and important one that warrants further thought,” he said.
Kings North MLA Jim Morton said they’ve received a lot of calls at his constituency office about the issue and it does matter. He’s pushing for further study. Morton points out the cost of food supplements for terminally ill patients can be managed somewhat by procuring them through Annapolis Valley Health.
Morton, who has been a palliative care worker in the past, said having the province cover the cost of drugs for terminally ill patients wishing to die at home has been very helpful.
“We have to find everything we can do to make it easier,” he said.
Advances in medicine have helped people live longer lives but often without having a lot of resources to provide for themselves in the usual way.
Kings West MLA and Liberal Health critic Leo Glavine said he would be meeting with palliative care associations to discuss moving forward with a badly-needed provincial palliative care plan. The establishment of a hospice would also fill a tremendous void.
“There are times you just have to do the right thing,” Glavine said, pointing out that government paying for tube feeding supplements for terminally ill patients at home would also be the best option financially for the healthcare system, considering it costs between $800 and $1,000 a day to keep someone in a hospital bed.
Personally, Glavine believes it’s “really shameful” the province has yet to respond in a positive way to this problem.