National Palliative Care Week 2020 – Tying the knot while receiving palliative care at St Luke’s in Launceston

Ed Van Galen, Director of Mission | Calvary Launceston (TAS) Hospitals


This year’s National Palliative Care Week theme is “Palliative Care: It’s more than you think.” What is something you tell people about palliative care that surprises them?

Palliative care is not just about going somewhere to die.

It can be care for symptom management at the hospital and then return home. Or a time to ‘live’ during the dying process. Palliative care is special care not necessarily about dying. It is caring about every part of a person’s world. It can be a time of healing on many levels.

As part of the multidisciplinary palliative care team pastoral care is a healing presence that is not focussed on the physical illness or symptoms. We talk about relationships; about being at peace.


Tell us about how pastoral care contribute to a multidisciplinary palliative care team in providing palliative and end of life care to patients in an acute hospital and/or specialist palliative care setting?

Pastoral care advocates for the patient from their particular perspective at any given time; on many different levels.

This last Mother’s Day presented some challenges with limited visitors due to COVID-19. The multidisciplinary palliative care team facilitated a ‘Window Phone Call’: A practical response to an emotional need.

As simple as our patient being wheeled close to the window and waving to her family down below in the St Luke’s Hospital garden whist talking with them on the phone.

Pastoral care finds out what’s going on emotionally for people, finding out what can be a block for people for treatment. We create the space for them to be heard and understood which often brings relief on many levels.


Palliative and End of Life Care is known for being able to adapt to challenge with creativity and compassion. Can you reflect on an instance where you or a colleague have had to adapt the way you provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Recently we had a patient undergoing palliative care. The partner of this patient is one of our valued night staff. Planning commenced for an on-site wedding!

COVID-19 presented some new parameters that we had to consider. What resulted was a beautiful ceremony attended by a handful of key participants, live streamed around loved ones and friends. There were flowers, a gorgeous cake and smiles and tears all-round.

Staff brought in special morning tea plates that were placed on a corridor table within the ward, to be grazed on throughout the day. It was a beautiful ceremony, shared with many.


What is something you have learned about the people receiving care, their loved ones, your colleagues or yourself, when thinking about how palliative and end of life care is provided during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was again struck by how important relationships and connections are. This became apparent recently with the challenge of dying with only one relative for support. The rest of the family were interstate. Pastoral Care worked with the sense of loss due to family not being here and the loneliness of the one carer.  Pastoral care helped with facilitating Wi-Fi, face time video calls, as well as extra visits.

Pastoral care focusses on the emotional and spiritual needs. The multidisciplinary palliative care team understands the need for giving updates and accurate information to family and carers and keeping in touch because so few can visit at this challenging time of COVID-19 pandemic.


What’s next for your work; what are you looking forward to?

As part of National Palliative Care Week, we are accepting two wheelchairs from Palliative Care Tasmania on Monday. These will support us in providing quality of life for the palliative patients in our care.

After COVID-19, we will keep doing what we do. Every day brings its own moments. We will focus on sustaining a pastoral presence, shaped by what we have learned from COVID-19 and fine tune what we do with what we have learnt.