Design partnerships bring light and peace to palliative ward

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There are projects that put both a smile and a tear on the faces of all involved – this is the story of one of those projects.

The Penetanguishene General Hospital (PGH) is, among many other things, the home of six palliative care rooms and provides office space free of charge to Hospice Huronia, a non-profit organization whose aim is to help individuals and families deal with the emotion and stress of life-threatening illness.

About a year ago a quick flip through a Toronto magazine planted the seed for a project that would bring the PGH and Hospice partnership even closer and invite a whole new segment of the community in. The Design Challenge that sprung from that initial glance at a feature article brings health-care professionals, bereavement volunteers, hospital administrators, local businesses, community volunteers and local designers together with the task of turning a hospital room into a place where terminally ill patients and their families would feel comfortable and soothed.

“The idea for the design challenge was initiated by my sister, Karen Larkins, after she had seen a feature about redecoration of labour rooms at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and thought why not here?” explains Kathy Larkins, Hospice Huronia business manager. “During a gabfest on one of our trips to Toronto, the two of us came up with a plan and I presented it to our board who enthusiastically pledged an initial $6,000 toward the project. The Midland Knights of Columbus soon came on board with another $2,000,” she adds.

From there the idea was shared with PGH and North Simcoe Hospital Alliance partners in order to get approval and get the project moving. Following approval from senior management teams, a joint planning committee was formed. The committee put an initial package together and invited local designers to participate. They got commitments from four and the project took flight.

Coincidentally, it was the same time the Cedar Ridge Classical Pops committee (a neighbourhood philanthropic effort) put out a call for applications for donations; the criteria was helping seniors, and the design project seemed to be a perfect fit. With encouragement from Cedar Ridge Pops volunteer Cindy Thor and decorator Sandy Cornell, a proposal was sent to the group that resulted in a $40,000 donation.

The local designers and decorators who signed up to offer their time and expertise included Sandy Cornell who owns Reflections, Paula Lynn-Meridis of Saturday Afternoons and Kelly Boudreau of iDesign. Today, more than half way through the project, everyone involved agrees it is one of the most rewarding things they’ve ever participated in.

For Cornell, owner of Reflections Interior Decorating and Design and a registered nurse before becoming a designer, the project had very important implications. “Over my many years of nursing I have worked with terminally ill patients. This project was a perfect fit for me as I welcomed an opportunity to give something special to this population of patients. I also saw the value it would have for the morale of both the family and the hospital staff,” Cornell says. “The team I put together made this project even more meaningful as they all live and work in our community and were extremely generous in donating goods as well as time. It had special meaning for everyone involved.”

The second designer on the scene was Saturday Afternoon’s Paula Lynn-Meridis who completed her Cape Cod inspired room last November. “I have been involved in lots of fundraising activities before but never anything like this,” Lynn-Meridis says. “During this project I found myself full of emotion standing in the room that I was designing. I would imagine myself or a family member needing this room and I would become very emotional. I wanted the space to be tranquil and peaceful.”

The ultimate test has been the response from patients and families who have occupied the completed rooms, notes care co-ordinator Catherine Root. “The first patient in a completed room thought she’d won the lottery,” she adds. “Patients need to be helped to feel at ease during this hospital stay. Being enveloped in such beauty and thoughtfulness is both comforting and soothing.”

Kelly Boudreau of iDesign completed her room in January. She got to meet the room’s occupant before starting. “I feel honoured to be able to use my talents to provide a comfortable living space for those who so greatly deserve the ‘comforts of home’,” Boudreau says. “It truly warms my heart to know that my passion to decorate touches the hearts of the patients and their families who need a peaceful space to reflect on life and its future.”

The committee hopes to complete the project, including the family lounge and quiet room, by Hospice Palliative Care Week in May.