National Palliative Care Week 2020 – Supporting residents to live well in aged care

Sharon Sheen | Manager, Calvary Cooinda Retirement Community


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?

When we talk about palliative care with families and residents, we talk about the fact that residents will continue to participate in all that they want to participate in until the end of their life.

We talk about continuing to do the things they love, maintaining their ‘usual’ routine as long as possible. I share a story of one our residents who was 98 at the time. She participated in a fashion parade and morning tea one morning, then died the same evening. She ‘lived’ until she died.


Tell us about how palliative and end of life care is provided in a residential aged care setting, specifically Calvary Cooinda Retirement Community. 

The clinical team take the time early on in the journey to ensure the family know the journey that their loved one is on. Generally, but not always this is months in advance. The family participate in all decision making with resident around what they would like their end of life to look like. We attempt to accommodate all their wishes as best we can.

Family also participate in the final stages, being present. Some stay over, others stay for short/long periods. We provide a carer’s bag to the family which provides information on “when someone you love is dying”, a bookmark with information for local counselling services, a pen/note pad, a letter from the team, puzzles, tissues and, of course, lollies to remind them that we care about them as well.

The team also provide meals, support, information, love and hugs and all the care that is required. Pain management is accommodated through consultation with local GPs and the clinical team.

The team has organised and run memorial services on site as per resident request. A team member will always attend an external funeral service to represent Calvary Cooinda Retirement Community, and we have a memorial service as part of our Mary Potter Day in November that remembers all the people who have died that year.


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?

 Mostly throughout this time our palliative care process has not changed. Family have remained involved. Residents have continued to function in their ‘normal’ routine, even if that means attending activities in wheel chairs or nobel chairs, rather than walking.

We have a resident at the moment who is at end of life and she was a professional ballerina. She loves to look beautiful and ‘feel’ beautiful.

During COVID-19 we have not been able to have the hairdresser visit, so we have organised for a staff member to put a colour in her hair and set it for her. This will not only make her feel beautiful but will also help her to feel special and loved. Her nephew is very happy that we are able to do this for her.

Another example is a resident at the end of her life over Easter. No one was able to visit as her son lives in Western Australia. The Cooinda team are her family here, so a team member dressed up as a chicken and brought Easter eggs to her to celebrate Easter, and let her know how special she is. She died peacefully the next morning.


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? 

We need to be supportive, flexible and innovative. We need to ensure that the team remain aware that each person is unique and their needs are different and will change. So we are always adapting to the needs of the person at end of life. We need to show love to all, no matter the circumstances.


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

We look forward to the next Cooinda ‘family’ member that comes to live with us, so that we can participate in their journey with them. What a privilege it is, and something I always cherish.