OBJECTIVE: At the end of life, the need for care increases. Yet, for structurally vulnerable populations (i.e., people experiencing homelessness and poverty, racism, criminalization of illicit drug use, stigma associated with mental health), access to care remains highly inaccessible. Emerging research suggests that enhancing access to palliative care for these populations requires moving care from traditional settings, such as the hospital, into community settings, like shelters and onto the street. Thus, inner-city workers (ICWs) (e.g., housing support and community outreach) have the potential to play pivotal roles in improving access to care by integrating a "palliative approach to care" in their work.
METHOD: Drawing upon observational field notes and interview data collected for a larger critical ethnographic study, this secondary thematic analysis examines ICWs' (n = 31) experiences providing care for dying clients and garners their perspectives regarding the constraints and facilitators that exist in successfully integrating a palliative approach to care in their work.
RESULTS: Findings reveal three themes: (1) Approaches, awareness, and training; (2) Workplace policies and filling in the gaps; and (3) Grief, bereavement, and access to supports. In brief, ICWs who draw upon harm reduction strategies strongly parallel palliative approaches to care, although more knowledge/training on palliative approaches was desired. In their continuous work with structurally vulnerable clients, ICWs have the opportunity to build trusting relationships, and over time, are able to identify those in need and assist in providing palliative support. However, despite death and dying is an everyday reality of ICWs, many described a lack of formal acknowledgement by employers and workplace support as limitations.
SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: Findings contribute promising practices for enhancing equitable access to palliative care for society's most vulnerable populations by prioritizing front-line workers' perspectives on how best to integrate a palliative approach to care where structurally vulnerable populations live and die.
The process of dying pronounces inequities, particularly for structurally vulnerable populations. Extending recent health geography research, we critically explore how the 'places' of formal healthcare settings shape experiences of, and access to, palliative care for the structurally vulnerable (e.g., homeless, substance users). Drawing on 30 months of ethnographic data, thematic findings reveal how symbolic, aesthetic, and physical elements of formal healthcare 'places' intersect with social relations of power to produce, reinforce, and amplify structural vulnerability and thus, inequities in access to care. Such knowledge may inform decision-makers on ways to enhance equitable access to palliative care for some of societies' most vulnerable population groups.