Compassionate communities support death, dying and bereavement

People in Albany continue to benefit from the Greater Choice for At Home Palliative Care Compassionate Communities pilot, as they improve access to safe, high quality palliative care in primary and community care.

This activity was funded by the Australian Government’s Greater Choice for At Home Palliative Care program which enables Primary Health Networks to implement locally appropriate initiatives to improve the coordination of care and boost access to a range of support services.

Importantly, it also helps more people understand their options for palliative support in a variety of settings, including the family home and residential aged care.

Albany’s Greater Choice project undertook a Compassionate Communities approach to improve death literacy with wellbeing a key determinant in achieving palliative care public health results.

Other key outcomes were increased community knowledge, skills and involvement around the social dimensions of death and dying and the successful launch of the Compassionate Cities Albany Charter.

Compassionate charters have been developed in Australia to encourage communities to be kinder and more supportive places to live, especially during emotional and challenging times.

Residents, neighbourhood networks and local organisations all play a stronger role in supporting fellow citizens, including patients approaching their final days, their families and their carers.

The Albany Charter was the product of six intensive workshops in 2019, attended by more than 100 participants. A further five focus groups were held to develop the linkages between the community and primary health services.

Professor in Palliative Medicine Kirsten Auret was one of the key drivers behind the success of the community initiative. She says there was support and enthusiasm for the Albany Charter right from the start. “Compassionate cities are ones where they embed in their civic life an understanding that there are social dimensions to death, dying and bereavement.

“Until now compassionate communities were always somewhere else. So, for us to be successful in gaining the Greater Choice for Palliative Care at Home funding really allowed us to pull together a group of interested organisations and individuals to say, ‘Let’s make this happen here’,” says Professor Auret.

The purpose of the Albany Charter is to guide and encourage community groups, service providers, clubs, and businesses to work together to create a more compassionate, resilient, and responsive society. The whole community is encouraged to come together and support each other during times of grief and hardship.

View the Compassionate Albany Charter here

City of Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington had no idea about palliative care until his younger brother was diagnosed with cancer at 18 years of age. He says that it was this tragic experience that motivated him to support other families. “It hit me like a brick that this happens every day to some family.”

Albany is known as ‘somewhat of a retirement town’ and the mayor is passionate about the Council doing everything it can to support the community. “Having that older age group, it’s part and parcel of our community that they need looking after. And as a Council, we just feel that that’s part and parcel of our job.”

The Council champions a program to make homes more accessible by widening doorways to allow for wheelchairs and hospital beds to move from room to room. “That’s the way local government can become part of the solution, where the design for the house enables you to have palliative care at home, which is where most people want to die around their family, their pets, and all that sort of thing,” said Mayor Wellington.

And he is proud of how the community rallies around people in need, which takes many forms including emotional support, household tasks or driving patients to metropolitan areas for radiation and other treatment.

As part of building a healthy culture around dying and bereavement, Albany also has a Death Café which enables people to freely discuss all matters relating to the end-of-life journey over a cup of tea and a scone.

Irene Montefiore, who is a local volunteer, says the café is a lot more fun than it might sound. “Some people think it’s probably a morbid sort of situation. And although sometimes there are tears because people are talking about grief or about bereavement, it is also a lot of laughter and a lot of relief.

“I think people realise that the better equipped they are to plan a funeral or to care for someone at the end of life or to simply talk to other people who are themselves very sick or who are caring for a partner’ who’s very sick, the easier it becomes.

“We’d been running for a number of years when the Compassionate Communities Project started up and the collaboration has been fantastic and it’s worked really well,” said Montefiore

The Compassionate Albany Charter is building on strong support services that were already in place. “So, we have a brilliant hospice. We already had a good palliative care team at the hospital. There had already been some work done on advance health directives and advance care planning. We already had the target audience, if you like, quite a large, retired population. And we already had the Death Café,” said Montefiore.

“But by putting in the resources that the Greater Choices brought, it helped to bring all of those groups together to work much more closely with the City of Albany, which helped develop them.”

Professor Auret says the compassionate community’s approach to palliative care has been “fabulous”. As an academic palliative care physician, she says she has been particularly interested in a movement called public health palliative care. “We think much more broadly about what the resources and assets within a community that are will support those that are terminally ill, frail, elderly, bereaved, grieving. And to think about really supporting those structures within a community to get maximum input into the person at the centre.”

The Compassionate communities work in Albany features in a video series highlighting some of the innovative and local palliative care initiatives being implemented by PHNs across Australia, under the Greater Choice program.

Watch the Albany Greater Choice for At Home Palliative Care Program below.

Learn more

The Greater Choice for At Home Palliative Care Program is a key initiative of the Department of Health and Aged Care, to coordinate palliative care through PHNs.

For more information about Albany’s Compassionate Charter and Country WA PHN’s other palliative care projects please contact