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Having a conversation about ‘What Matters Most’ to you when you’re nearing the end of your life can be very tough for many people.

But that’s exactly what people are being encouraged to do during National Palliative Care week.

Bellarine Community Health is holding a free Community Forum on Tuesday 22 May to help people start a conversation about ‘What Matters Most’ and learn about palliative care services available on the Bellarine.

“We should be planning ahead for end-of-life care and discuss it with our loved ones and health professionals so that everyone is aware of people’s preferences,” says specialist palliative care physician and facilitator of the Community Forum Dr David Brumley.

“Palliative care is provided by a mix of people from the community including family, friends, doctors, community nurses, volunteers and specialists.

“It’s a community responsibility; we’re all in this together.”

Special guest speaker at the forum, Dr Claire Hepper, has a very personal story to tell. Dr Hepper was able to support 19 year old Shannon McKnight to die at home on her parent’s farm in regional Victoria, but the experience revealed a gap for people who couldn’t access 24 hour care.

“It wasn’t until I was faced with caring for Shannon in a crisis situation that the simple and effective idea of a having an emergency symptom control and information pack came to me,” says Dr Hepper.

Dr Hepper developed ‘Shannon’s Pack’, which contains information, equipment and some medication to help control symptoms like pain, nausea or anxiety. The pack helps bridge the gap when a family member is in need at home and they can’t be seen by a health service.

“The pack makes life easier by empowering families with the ability to help their loved ones if they experiencing symptoms,” Dr Hepper says.

“We give the family education and support, as well as a back up plan on who to call if they’re worried.”

The packs led to a pilot program called ‘Shannon’s Bridge’, a not-for-profit organisation to connect patients and families with support and services at the end of life. A recent funding grant will allow the ‘Shannon’s Bridge’ pilot program to be expanded statewide.“Shannon’s Bridge isn’t to replace the amazing palliative care services available but to bridge gaps in some communities,” Dr Hepper says.

“Doctors can’t do this alone, health services can’t do this alone; we all need to do this together.”

The free Bellarine Community Health Palliative Care Community Forum is on Tuesday 22 May from 2pm to 4pm at Drysdale Community Health Centre

National Palliative Care week runs from 20 to 26 May.

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