Meet a Longtime Member: Irena Laska, Albania

Volume 23, Number 5: May 2022

Taking a Moment to Reflect on Achievements in Albania

By Alison Ramsey
IAHPC Newsletter Editor

When so many are in need of palliative care, and so much needs to be done to enact the care, the enormity of the task can seem utterly overwhelming. This is the case in Albania, where Irena Laska has been toiling since 1998, achieving much but always aiming for more.

As with so many of palliative care’s most ardent supporters, Irena began as a volunteer; she was then hired by the group of Catholic nuns providing the end-of-life care she volunteered for. Now, 24 years later, she is executive-director of a palliative care provider that services beds in 10 regional hospitals, lectures in nursing faculties, lobbied for and achieved a master’s program in palliative nursing, and is the primary contact for a program funded by the Swiss embassy to develop nursing home care in Albania for those with incurable disease.

A new role for nurses

“…it’s our time now. We need to talk—and not stop talking—about the service for people who are suffering.”

“In home care, doctors and nurses are working in other areas, not palliative care,” she says. “The Swiss program is to give nurses a new role, to make them understand that their main job is to look after all patients,” including those living at home with incurable diseases. “It’s a great opportunity for me and my team: it’s our time now. We need to talk—and not stop talking—about the service for people who are suffering.

“People in other regions of Albania want to understand why home care is necessary for these people,” she adds. Even in her own territory of southeastern Albania, “Palliative care is now known by the people, but they don’t want to accept it.”

A discouraging aspect

Irena, who has been working as a nurse throughout, is understandably exhausted. She is also discouraged, despite the huge gains she has achieved, by training nurses who often leave to work in other countries when their expertise is desperately needed locally. “Now, we have more than 100 patients who need care at home, but we have only six nurses.”

It is difficult to disengage even for the time necessary to refresh and sustain her own self, because “you need to keep going for others—people who really need it.”

A fresh tactic

Yet in a phone conversation thanking Irena for being a member since 2008, IAHPC Executive Director Liliana De Lima stressed the necessity of taking time to “nurture yourself” with self-care during the work week.

“You need some kind of release and relief for the challenges you meet,” she said. “Sometimes, when we say ‘No’ it creates a vacuum” that others fill.

Training people in the community, not health care professionals, has worked well elsewhere to boost local palliative care, she added.

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