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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Recommendations for improving the end-of-life care system for homeless populations: A qualitative study of the views of Canadian health and social services professionals

Ryan McNeil1*, Manal Guirguis-Younger2 and Laura B Dilley3

Author affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

2 Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, ON, Canada

3 Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Surrey, BC, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Palliative Care 2012, 11:14  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-11-14

Published: 15 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Homeless populations have complex and diverse end-of-life care needs. However, they typically die outside of the end-of-life care system. To date, few studies have explored barriers to the end-of-life care system for homeless populations. This qualitative study involving health and social services professionals from across Canada sought to identify barriers to the end-of-life care system for homeless populations and generate recommendations to improve their access to end-of-life care.

Methods

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 54 health and social services professionals involved in end-of-life care services delivery to homeless persons in six Canadian cities (Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Winnipeg). Participants included health administrators, physicians, nurses, social workers, harm reduction specialists, and outreach workers. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.

Results

Participants identified key barriers to end-of-life care services for homeless persons, including: (1) insufficient availability of end-of-life care services; (2) exclusionary operating procedures; and, (3) poor continuity of care. Participants identified recommendations that they felt had the potential to minimize these barriers, including: (1) adopting low-threshold strategies (e.g. flexible behavioural policies and harm reduction strategies); (2) linking with population-specific health and social care providers (e.g. emergency shelters); and, (3) strengthening population-specific training.

Conclusions

Homeless persons may be underserved by the end-of-life care system as a result of barriers that they face to accessing end-of-life care services. Changes in the rules and regulations that reflect the health needs and circumstances of homeless persons and measures to improve continuity of care have the potential to increase equity in the end-of-life care system for this underserved population.