Dr. Eduardo Bruera, a world-renowned expert in palliative care, says advances happening in Edmonton have positively affected dying people around the world.


Dr. Eduardo Bruera, a world-renowned expert in palliative care, says advances happening in Edmonton have positively affected dying people around the world.

October 29, 2012

Covenant Health, pioneers in the realm of compassionate care, celebrated the launch of the Palliative End of Life Care Institute with various palliative care leaders.

Covenant Health has been a leader in palliative care since 1985, when the Grey Nuns opened the first hospital-based palliative program at the Edmonton General Hospital.

This latest announcement demonstrates its continued pledge towards compassionate care for dying Albertans.

The official launch was held Oct. 17 at the Fantasyland Hotel.

John Brennan, Covenant Health board chairman, said the launch of the institute shows the commitment of Covenant Health to end-of-life care.

"The institute will respond to the growing need for end-of-life care in this province," said Brennan.

More than 259,000 Canadians die each year. The estimate is that more than 160,000 (about 62 per cent) of these people require access to hospice palliative care services.

The number of Albertans who will require end-of-life care is expected to increase 33 per cent by 2020.

Brennan said that Covenant Health has been advocating nationally for recognition of palliative care as a core component of the health care system.

"As a provincial leader in palliative care services, Covenant Health is truly committed to improving national efforts to provide the best palliative and end-of-life support to Albertans and Canadians," said Linda Revell, Covenant Health senior vice president operations and its chief operating officer.

Today, Covenant Health has 81 palliative and hospice beds across the province, including units at the Edmonton General, St. Joseph's Auxiliary Hospital and Grey Nuns Community Hospital.

The Tertiary Palliative Care Unit at the Grey Nuns Hospital is a multi-disciplinary program that attracts practitioners, students and researchers from around the world.


"Most important, the unit helps patients, residents and clients take the most difficult journey of their lives with hope and with dignity," said Revell.

Linda Revell

Linda Revell

A short video entitled Journey with Ken was shown at the launch. The poignant video brought many in the audience to tears. It documented the end-of-life care shown for Ken Lane who, dying of stage four cancer, spent his final months in palliative care.

Lane's daughter, Melissa McCarthy, hopes the new institute will provide education and research so more people will receive the individualized care her family is receiving.

"My father entered the Grey Nuns in excruciating pain. Within a few weeks of being on the palliative unit, his pain was managed enough that he was able to resume his sailing passion," said McCarthy. "The care he is receiving from the entire team has brought my family a great deal of comfort."

Canadians living in remote and rural areas, or those living with disabilities, have severely limited access to hospice palliative care services.

One objective of the new institute is to bring experts together to focus on programs, planning and education to respond to the growing need for end-of-life care.

"The institute will ensure that patients facing complex illness have access to a full and comprehensive spectrum of health services," explained Revell.

The new Palliative End of Life Care Institute will bring experts together to advance palliative and end-of-life care by facilitating research, innovation and knowledge translation.

Endorsing the institute was Dr. Eduardo Bruera, a world-renowned expert in palliative care. He was one of the founders of the Edmonton General program.


He developed and led, for the first five years of operations, the Edmonton Regional and Palliative Care program. Today, the program provides access to palliative care to more than 80 per cent of patients who die of cancer in the Edmonton region.

Bruera now chairs the department of palliative care and rehabilitative medicine at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Returning to Edmonton to endorse the new institute, Bruera said that what is happening in palliative care elsewhere in the world sprang from what was initiated at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital more than 25 years ago.

"The community of Edmonton has had an enormous impact, not only on the well-being of Albertans who are dying, but also on people around this whole planet who are dying," he said.

"That could only happen from the commitment and the courage of the Grey Nuns who, at the time, faced opposition from bean-counters that claimed there was no evidence of the need for palliative care, no big science, no big money and stood up with limited positions."


The Grey Nuns were right, and the bean-counters were wrong, said Bruera.

"Not only is the evidence there that palliative care dramatically changes the quality of our lives and our communities, but guess what? It saves billions of dollars of unnecessary expenditures," he concluded.

Bruera has developed numerous palliative care programs in Latin America, India and throughout Europe.

Over the past 20 years, he has trained hundreds of physicians, nurses and other health care professionals in the different aspects of the clinical delivery of palliative care.