Dr. Sandy Buchman brings his passion for palliative care to North York

Dr. Sandy Buchman

Something special has been happening in North York that is making a world of difference to individuals and families in our community. North York General (NYGH) has one of Toronto's most comprehensive community palliative care programs. Now, with Dr. Sandy Buchman as the inaugural Freeman Family Chair in Palliative Care and new Medical Director of NYGH's Freeman Centre for the Advancement of Palliative Care, we are further expanding access to palliative care in people’s communities and homes. 

The topic of palliative care doesn't typically find its way into everyday conversation. It's often confused with end-of-life or seen as a niche area of medicine, but for so many people, families and caregivers, it is so much more than that. The understanding of palliative care is changing dramatically as passionate advocates like Dr. Buchman find ways to bring crucial discussions about living and dying well into the mainstream, even using social media platforms like TikTok.

"I am thinking like a startup company; my dream is to have a centre of innovation and excellence in palliative care at North York General," says Dr. Buchman. "A place where we bring together the incredible people who devote themselves to palliative care and let their ideas, best practices and research come together in ways we have not seen before." 

Dr. Buchman is well-known across Canada as a physician, teacher, advocate, leader and foremost expert on palliative care, including serving as the recent past President of the Canadian Medical Association. One of the many projects Dr. Buchman has been working on is opening a new hospice in North York, a labour of love and a first in the community.

"Palliative care is a powerful tool for patients and families, especially when it's introduced alongside curative treatments for life-limiting conditions," says Dr. Buchman. "We need to make sure that the palliative care team and services are integrated upfront both in the hospital and community."

While Canadians are living longer, more of us are also contending with chronic, life-limiting conditions such as organ failure, dementia or cancer. According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, seven of the top 10 causes of death in Canada are chronic conditions. People of all ages with life-limiting illnesses, at any stage, can have their quality of life improved with palliative care. 

Dr. Buchman started his career as a family physician. For the next 22 years, he was a student, scholar and practitioner of 'cradle to grave' care. He spent many years providing care for people living with HIV/AIDS when the world was first learning about the disease. When his patients were in the final stages of the illness, he found that they really wanted their own doctor to care for them - that was who they trusted most to help alleviate their suffering.

"Despite everything we know today about the benefits of palliative care there are many people who don't have the same access," says Dr. Buchman. "This challenge can be overcome with innovative programs such as PEACH - Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless."

Establishing a "PEACH North" is part of the dream that would see NYGH grow into a centre of excellence. New partnerships have already started to flourish.

The new Supportive Geriatric Outreach Program, for example, provides integrated supportive palliative and end-of-life care for homebound patients living with progressive and life-limiting non-cancer illness. 

An initiative of the North York Toronto Health Partners, with leadership from the Freeman Centre for the Advancement of Palliative Care, this program’s team of physicians, nurse practitioners and other community care professionals focus on enabling each patient to have the best possible quality of life.

"When introduced early, palliative care often leads to better outcomes," says Dr. Buchman. "But care needs to be delivered seamlessly in hospitals and continue when patients and families are home in the community." 

This article first appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of The Pulse.

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