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Homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs often have end-of-life care needs that go unmet due to barriers that they face to accessing end-of-life care services. Many homeless and marginally housed persons who use these substances must therefore rely upon alternate sources of end-of-life care and support. This article explores the role of harm reduction services in end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs.
A qualitative case study design was used to explore end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons in six Canadian cities. A key objective was to explore the role of harm reduction services. 54 health and social services professionals participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews. All participants reported that they provided care and support to this population at end-of-life.
Harm reduction services (e.g., syringe exchange programs, managed alcohol programs, etc.) were identified as a critical point-of-entry to and source of end-of-life care and support for homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs. Where possible, harm reduction services facilitated referrals to end-of-life care services for this population. Harm reduction services also provided end-of-life care and support when members of this population were unable or unwilling to access end-of-life care services, thereby improving quality-of-life and increasing self-determination regarding place-of-death.
While partnerships between harm reduction programs and end-of-life care services are identified as one way to improve access, it is noted that more comprehensive harm reduction services might be needed in end-of-life care settings if they are to engage this underserved population.