A two-year study that followed 25 homeless or barely-housed people with life-threatening medical conditions in Victoria has found that many are only given appropriate health care once inching closer to death.
Researchers out of the University of Victoria spent more than 300 hours with the 25 people, following them to medical appointments and with social care workers, according to a report released Thursday.
The study also involved almost 150 interviews with those suffering, as well as with their close friends and family. Thirteen people died during the two-year study.
According to their report, researchers found that those living on the streets suffering from cancer, heart failure and lung disease are open to more vulnerabilities than those who are able to access palliative care – the end-of-life health services which include pain management, increased supports and help for caregivers.
Kelli Stajduhar, lead investigator with UVic’s Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health, said in a news release that palliative care not only prevents and eases suffering, but alleviates the harms of homelessness through whole-person care addressing the basic needs lacking for street-entrenched people.
|Kelli Stajduhar, lead researcher of 'Too Little, Too Late' (Submitted)|
While the study found that people experience the same injustices while dying as they commonly face in their daily lives – including stigmatization, criminalization, racialization and exclusion – once they can access palliative care their access to food, shelter and social support increases.
“Being labelled ‘palliative’ opened people up to a basket of services and resources previously unavailable to them,” Stajduhar said.
Ten participants ended their lives in a palliative care unit, the report reads, where they reported they received the best care of their lives.
Grey Showler, director of health and support services with Victoria Cool Aid Society, said people dealing with homelessness and life-threatening conditions typically don’t get diagnosed until late in their illness, both due to “survival priorities” and poor treatment within the health care system.
People experiencing homelessness face many barriers to accessing care, he said, including policies that can prevent health care workers from entering sites where people are living and a lack of support for friends who are caring for them.
Researchers have made a number of recommendations that they believe will help bridge the gap between end-of-life care and some of Canada’s most vulnerable, including adapting policies to address barriers some face in formal health care settings, develop mobile palliative care services, and support non-traditional families in the decision-making process of someone’s health plan.