FOSTER Library has been chosen as the site for an “end of life” hub.
“What we’d like to do is establish a hub, where all that information will be available. We want to locate it, hopefully, in a place where all members of the community can get access to it. In Foster that will probably be in the new extended hours library. You can come for a book and find out about death at the same time,” South Gippsland Shire Council Community Strengthening Officer Sophie Dixon.
The Passionate Communities End of Life project – a collaboration between South Gippsland Shire Council, the Municipal Association of Victoria and La Trobe University (Palliative Care Unit) – is designed to improve community understanding of healthier approaches to death, dying and bereavement.
The project has been funded by the Department of Health and Human Services for three years (2017-2019).
Addressing SGSC councillors last week, Ms Dixon said the project “explores the way local government builds the capacity of communities to further accept that dying is part of life”.
“Why Foster? While the project encompasses all people, it will initially focus on older people. The population of Foster and surrounds has a higher proportion of people over 60 – 36.4 per cent – than South Gippsland as a whole – which has 27.8 per cent,” she said.
Ms Dixon said the percentage of aged people in the area was predicted to increase in the next 20 years, “with 43 per cent expected to be over 60 and 20.8 per cent expected to be between 70 and 84”.
“That is quite a large population all residing in the Foster, Toora, Welshpool and Port Welshpool area,” she said.
“Death is a really difficult subject and something people really don’t want to talk about. As an officer it’s also quite difficult. When people do become comfortable in talking to you about death and dying, that can become quite hard to sit and listen to.
“The project launch was around the same time as the assisted dying discussion was being held. That put people off. There’s a vast difference between those who want and those who don’t want it.”
Ms Dixon said regional areas had less access to palliative care, which means “agencies operating in our local areas are stretched”.
“It means workers are operating outside normal work times. Death doesn’t happen from nine to five. Information is what people want. Eighty per cent of people want to die at home, but only about 10 per cent get to,” she said.
“There’s a lack of information on dying and support, on legality, on burial – everything you can think of surrounding it. It’s either inaccessible information or particularly hard to understand – written from a medical point of view, which puts people off.
“When Community Strengthening was asked to deliver the project, my response was, ‘I really don’t want to.’ My second response was, ‘Why would local government get involved with this?’” she said.
Despite these early misgivings, Ms Dixon believes Council is “uniquely placed” to deliver the project.
Citing the Grattan Report ‘Dying Well’, Ms Dixon said there were “problems with our approach to dying”.
She said dying placed “enormous pressure on agencies, hospitals, aged care facilities and the medical professions”.
“The medicalisa-tion of death has given back negatively on a person’s ability to direct their own end of life. The role of rural communities has been reduced in helping people through the end of life process – because people are often hospitalised or institutionalised far from their support networks,” she said. • End game: South Gippsland Shire Council Community Strengthening Officer Sophie Dixon and Community Strengthening Manager Ned Dennis were part of a Council team looking at dying.