Diane honoured with life membership of Palliative Care Victoria

Making a difference;
Making Soul Friends

A week before being honoured with a life membership of Palliative Care Victoria at their 2018 AGM, Diane Wright sits in her home in Colac, gazing at the lake, contemplating her work in palliative care.

“There was always a spirit of commitment to the community in my family. My father and mother were key members in establishing the non-for-profit Royal Guide Dogs for Victoria and as a family, we were always involved in working bees and fund-raisers. Dad was also a member of The Melbourne Apex Club so by example, community service was part of my life, even as a young child,” Diane comments.

Every morning after breakfast, before rushing out the front door ready to embrace the new day ahead, her father would ask a 12-year-old Diane the same question. A question that has stayed with her for decades.

“Every morning he would look me in the eyes in an inquisitive fashion and in a playful but curious tone he would ask, “what difference are you going to make in the world today Diane?” He probably didn’t know it at the time, but it inspired, encouraged and spurred me on to make an impact and over time to drive meaningful change”, says Diane.

And even though this humble and incredibly modest woman wouldn’t say so herself, she has had an enormous impact on the quality of life of hundreds of Australians. Diane has also been a trailblazer in paving the way for innovation in regional palliative care.

“While completing a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) I started my career working at Yarra Valley Grammar School where I was very impressed with an innovative Hearing Unit to assist hearing impaired children. Some years later, having moved to Colac in Western Victoria and with a growing family, I was privileged to implement the Interchange Programme (now Gateways Support Services), a not-for-profit organization that supports children with a disability, by providing social and recreational opportunities and much-needed respite for their families. After matching over 100 children with suitable carers, I could see the tangible difference this was making. I then decided to increase my skills and so took up further study completing a Graduate Diploma of Social Science (Family Therapy)”, says Diane.

Diane then went on to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Adolescent Health & Welfare at Melbourne University and then her Masters of Counselling & Human Services at Latrobe. It was at La Trobe where she was mentored by Jean Rumbold, her University supervisor, and also met Doctor Bruce Rumbold who was incredibly passionate about a social model of palliative care.

By now working as a Palliative Care Counsellor in Geelong, Diane was inspired by the work of  Dame Cicely Saunders in the UK and Dr Trevor Banks in Geelong and was encouraged in her vision for creating a respite and palliative care facility which would provide a high standard of care within a “home-like” environment.

“As a palliative care counsellor, my role was to provide support for people who had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness or to provide support to  families, especially in their bereavement phase. Over my five years of  working with many, many  patients and their families, I noticed a common theme, a theme that I couldn’t forget and which troubled me: “People with a terminal illness wanted to remain at home and their families wanted the same thing, however, they became burnt out and towards the end of a loved one’s  life it became ever more challenging”, comments Diane.

“My father also had another saying that has stayed with me during the years, “If you see something that needs to be done, don’t wait for someone else to do it”, Diane commented. “And I saw this gap in service and felt strongly that something needed to be done about it.”

And with this, Anam Cara House Geelong and Anam Cara House Colac, two Community Hospices in  Western Victoria, were born – “with outstanding community support, plus  the support of my husband and family and also my Christian faith”, adds Diane.

Anam Cara House Geelong was established in 2007, followed by the opening of Anam Cara House Colac in 2011. Diane’s leadership, in firstly initiating a massive fundraising drive and then taking the dream forward to the fit out of  St Mary’s Presbytery in Geelong  and then the purchase and refurbishment of a property in Barongarook West, near Colac, has enabled the people of Geelong and South West Victoria to have access to an option for palliative and end of life care which is truly unique.

“I researched deeply and travelled widely, taking inspiration in palliative care trends from across the world in developing Anam Cara. In fact, I came across the phrase “Anam Cara” ( used by John O’Donohue) in 2002  while attending the Canadian Palliative Care Congress. Anam Cara is the Gaelic phrase for “soul friend” and thus holistic care, including spiritual care offered through the service at Anam Cara House both in Geelong and Colac is resonating”, says Diane.

Over the past years, the Geelong and Colac Hospices have expanded annually and continue to evolve since first opening, demonstrating a clear need for this type of care and also responding to community need. Last financial year Anam Cara Colac  supported 61 guests and their families for 260 nights of the year, involving some 800 episodes of  overnight and day hospice care – however, the impacts within the  palliative care industry don’t stop there.

“I want to share our community model of hospice care and also support others who are making great strides in this space. So Anam Cara is proud to be associated with Warrnambool  & District Hospice Care and to have connected with Lakes Entrance Hospice, the Hospice Care Association of North Western Tasmania and most  recently with the newly initiated  Mansfield Community Hospice, to name a few”,  comments Diane.

Diane’s Father – Ken Rechter  – died  in  January this year, however I’m sure he is looking down on her and would be incredibly proud of what she has achieved – especially in establishing the  Anam Cara hospices that are owned by the community and that will continue to evolve to provide the care that the community needs.