“Very much focused on living”
It’s right there on the folder promoting the soon-to-be-built Gies Family Centre: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose…”
That quote, from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, continues: “a time to be born, and a time to die.” If you don’t know it from the Bible, you probably recognize it from the Pete Seeger song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, made famous by the Byrds, and subsequently recorded by musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Dolly Parton.
It’s especially apt as a motto for the Gies Family Centre, which when completed will be the new headquarters of Hospice of Waterloo, and which will include 10 residential beds for palliative care patients – the first time Hospice of Waterloo will provide residential care, since it was founded 25 years ago.
Hospice of Waterloo serves between 1300 and 1400 palliative care patients a year, reaching them in their homes and other facilities.
The fact that the hospice has existed for a quarter-century without providing beds for palliative care patients may come as a surprise to people assuming that “palliative beds” and “hospice” are synonymous. And there are two facilities in the Region of Waterloo – Lisaard House in Cambridge, and Innisfree House in Kitchener – whose primary focus is on residential care for the dying.
But even when the Gies Family Centre opens (which is planned for November of this year), residential care will still only represent a portion of the services offered by the Hospice of Waterloo. Many of those services are, and will continue to be, offered to and through the other two hospices in the region.
Judy Nairn has been executive director of Hospice of Waterloo since 2012. She told Exchange that the hospice was started 25 years ago by Lucille Mitchell, who envisioned it as “a community outreach hospice service.”
And such it has remained – and will remain, even with the new facility and the residential beds. That’s because the hospice has evolved to offer a wide variety of services – to the dying, to their caregivers, and to volunteers and support workers throughout the Region.
The new facility will have 10 beds – Innisfree also has 10, and Lisaard has six, all reserved for cancer patients.
The new Gies Family Centre beds will be available to anyone needing a palliative bed. However, says Nairn, the maximum number of people likely to be served in residence each year would be 200-250. But Hospice of Waterloo actually serves between 1300 and 1400 palliative care patients a year, reaching them in their homes and other facilities. To do that, Nairn’s organization has about 250 volunteers who provide that support to people in homes and long-term care. “They support them through their end of life journey,” she explains.
The Hospice of Waterloo has a team of 24 employees, who handle duties ranging from volunteer coordination, assessment and matching of patient and volunteer, schedule coordination, and administrative duties. Hospice of Waterloo “supplies the volunteers who to into Lisaard and Innisfree,” says Nairn. These are highly trained volunteers; they all receive 35 hours of training before they are assigned to support a patient, and there is on-going in-service training provided as well.
You might expect volunteers to burn-out in this emotion-laden environment, but Nairn proudly reports that “we have exceptional volunteers,” some of whom proudly wear 20- and 25-year service pins.
Hospice of Waterloo has developed a full menu of services in their field, including support groups and day programs. This “community service side really fits well with the whole evolution of Hospice – it’s a community response to the end of life.”
And it’s a response that can provide support for a much longer period than residential palliative beds. Residential beds come into the picture very near the end – around 10 days, on average, before death – whereas Hospice of Waterloo provides support services, “typically, 12-18 months,” says Nairn. “It can be from diagnosis. We focus on helping them achieve quality of life. We’re very much focused on living.”
“The last thing we want is for the person who is sick to feel that they are a burden. When you are sick, you’re entitled to ask for help.”
But for patients in a palliative situation, death is very much part of the immediate picture. And even when they are gone, they leave loved ones and friends behind – and Hospice of Waterloo works with those people, too, offering bereavement support through groups and counselling.
One service, only a year and a half old, that truly touches the heart is the hospice’s “vigiling service”, offered when “someone is dying, and they don’t want to be alone.”
So if Hospice of Waterloo is accomplishing all of this already, why is there a need for a new, $15 million Gies Family Centre? Nairn says it actually will meet a lot of needs.
She explains that there is a definite need for more hospice beds – there will still only be 26 in the Region of Waterloo, to serve a growing and aging population.
She points to projections that suggest that by 2036 there will be over 25,000 in the region over the age of 85. “That’s a lot of people,” she says.
She also explains that support services from family members are less possible, today, because “people don’t have as large a family, and the families are dispersed.”
As well, “this allows the full continuum of services,” through Hospice of Waterloo, and “we will be able to expand our programming.”
Construction has begun on the facility, located in the north-east sector of Waterloo, adjacent to RIM Park. Local contractor Melloul Blamey is the general contractor on the project; Neo Architecture Inc. is the architect.
The site was deliberately chosen, says Nairn, to provide a location in the northern section of the region, since Lisaard is in Cambridge and Innisfree, in Kitchener. But Nairn points out that “We serve all of Waterloo Region,” including through a satellite office in Cambridge, based at Langs.
The $15 million is the capital budget for the facility; the Gies Family (who are in the construction industry), have donated $2.5 million. The Ontario Ministry of Health has kicked in $2 million – an unusual move, since the Ministry has not contributed to a capital cost program in the past. The original public sector fundraising target was $10 million, and while the campaign is approaching that amount, “we are continuing to do funding for the building itself and for the ongoing operations,” says Nairn.
Ongoing operations are, of course, the challenge. Fundraisers will tell you – often and clearly – that it is much easier to raise money for a capital project that for operational costs. And the operational costs will be significant, since Hospice of Waterloo will be providing 24/7 care to patients. Staff size will almost double to between 40 and 45, says Nairn.
The hospice’s annual budget is currently $2.2 million; it will increase to $3.5 million when the new facility opens. The Ministry of Health funds between 50% and 60% of operating costs. That means, says Nairn, an annual fundraising goal of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.
She adds, “we do a significant amount of fundraising now,” but that will have to be kicked up a notch.
It’s important to note that the hospice services are provided free of charge to every client. “People shouldn’t have to worry about that at the end of life,” says Nairn. Nor should people have to be deprived of palliative support because they can’t afford it. So these services are offered to everyone, at no cost.
Nairn is passionate about her organization, and about the difference her volunteers and programs make in the lives of people facing what may be the most difficult time of their lives. “The last thing we want is for the person who is sick to feel that they are a burden. When you are sick, you’re entitled to ask for help.”
And Hospice of Waterloo exists to provide it.
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