Five stars for Living Hope

A patient at the Health Care Centre speaks about his experience.

Terminally ill patients at Living Hope’s hospice are being helped to meet death with dignity, regardless of their financial standing.

The Living Hope Health Care Centre, in Kommetjie Road, has just received a five-star rating with the Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa (COHSASA). It is the only accredited sub-acute and palliative-care facility in Cape Town and it’s free. Referrals are done by a doctor.

Living Hope earned the two-year COHSASA accreditation after a six-year-long process, including an audit of the entire organisation; its structure, governance, systems, procedures and policies.

“It brings the highest possible level of credibility to the organisation,” said Living Hope founder and chairman of the board, Reverend John Thomas.

COHSASA is the only internationally accredited quality improvement and accreditation body for health-care facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While Living Hope began in 2000 under Reverend Thomas’s direction, the hospice started in 2004.

According to Fredele Smith, the Health Care Centre manager, the 22-bed intermediate-care facility now not only includes palliative care, but also physical rehabilitation after a hospital stay, wound care, and respite care for patients whose family and carers may need a break, as the demands of caring for a family member who requires 24/7 care can take its toll.

It is Living Hope’s policy not to identify patients, but two of them spoke to the Echo on condition we did not publish their real names.

Max has a life-threatening illness and has been in the facility for three weeks now. He doesn’t talk about his illness. Instead, he speaks with pride about the grandchildren he adopted as babies, about how well they are doing.

He talks about how he puts his own words to the melodic early morning prayers he hears the staff say, how much he appreciates the space and the quality of care he is getting.

“This is not a place where people come to die. It is not depressing here. I thought that too before I came, now I know for myself. You get help here. Every day, you hear laughter,” he said.

Pearl has beaten this cancer before. But it came back. She had a breast removed, but this time, the cancer has gone to her lungs. Behind her seat by the television, is an oxygen tank. She is at home in Ocean View, where her care workers visit her.

She says the care is very good, and appreciated, because she has lost the use of her right arm. She says palliative care should be every person’s right, reminding us that everyone dies eventually.

“I have lived a good life. I am in my 70s now. I had hoped maybe I would have more time. Maybe I will have, of miskien is my nommer op. But… I am in God’s hands.”

Zheo Adams is a Living Hope community-based care outreach team leader and Jacky Fisher is a supervisor. Both women live in Ocean View and care for roughly 100 patients in the area, some of whom are palliative care patients.

Their lives are at risk daily as care workers, from dog and baboon attacks to gangsters and crime.

“It’s a privilege to do this; it’s a calling, not a job,” Ms Fisher said.

In Masiphumelele, the care workers are Babalwa Plaatjie and Vuyokazi Sicwibi. They lead visitors on a walking tour through a part of the township called Zululand: the area sunk deep into the wetlands. 

The care workers both live in Masiphumelele, and this is one of the routes they take to their patients’ homes – much of the path is flooded and the air is foul with the stench of sewage.

“Sometimes we have a name on our forms, but the people know that person by another name, so when we ask for them, nobody knows who we mean,” says Ms Plaatjie.

Eric Watlington, a spokesman for the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa (HPCA), says that palliative care is arguably the most pressing issue facing global health today.

“With the worldwide population ageing and people living longer with more complex health conditions, world leaders need to be called upon to find solutions.”

His drive is to further the reach of palliative care, so that everyone regardless of financial standing, can receive medical help, quality treatment, and in the end, leave the world with dignity.