Unique Partnership to Enhance End of Life Care for Patients

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It is September 2001 and while most of the world is focused on the horrific events of September 11th, Joan Kulhane, a 65-year-old retired chronic care nurse, quietly deals with her own anguish. Cancer, like a shadowy terrorist, has attacked her body spreading from her throat to her lungs and abdomen. Suddenly time has become her most precious possession. Yet thanks to a very specialized service and a unique partnership between William Osler Health Centre and four community hospices, her time will be spent living the best she can and she is happy.

“When I came to the Brampton Memorial Hospital Campus and was admitted to the Palliative Care Ward in January, I was scared and dejected. But the caring and compassionate people who spent time with me made me less fearful and less apprehensive of the service,” says Joan. “They treat the whole person, not just the disease and gave me special attention. That is so important to me.”

Hospice Palliative Care is a holistic form of health care for individuals living with a life-threatening or terminal illness. The objective is to provide quality end-of-life care centred on relieving physical pain and symptoms in combination with offering emotional, social and spiritual support to the patient, caregivers, and family members.

On January 24th, 2002, a unique partnership between four local hospice organizations and William Osler Health Centre was officially launched that will provide a continuum of care and support for palliative care patients and families in transition between home and hospital.

In-hospital palliative care services are offered at William Osler Health Centre’s three acute-care hospital campuses located in north Etobicoke, Brampton and Georgetown. They serve the communities of Etobicoke, Vaughan, Bolton, Brampton, Caledon, and Halton Hills.The four hospice partners include The Dorothy Ley Hospice (Etobicoke), Hospice Caledon (Caledon), Hospice of Peel (Brampton & Mississauga), and Hospice Vaughan (Vaughan). Hospice organizations are not-for-profit, volunteer-based organizations that provide in-home support to their respective community members living with a life-threatening or terminal illness and their families.

“This partnership is a collaborative model whereby the hospices and hospitals share resources for the recruitment, training and ongoing education of hospice palliative care volunteers working both in the community and in hospital,” explains Ruth Yates, Vice President of Patient Programs at William Osler Health Centre. “William Osler Health Centre is proud to be collaborating with our community hospice partners in meeting the daunting challenge of integrating palliative care across three regions and several communities.”

For the patients of William Osler Health Centre like Joan, this will mean a team of specially trained volunteers will join in providing supportive care to patients on our palliative care units. It will also provide patients with the opportunity to become familiar with the variety of services provided by community hospices.

Andrea Allan has been a palliative care volunteer at the Brampton Memorial Hospital Campus since 1993 and she can’t get enough of her work.

“This is the only service for me. I can’t say enough how rewarding being a volunteer in this specialized area of care has been for me. I love being able to connect with people and to help them live the best they can under the circumstances. We do all sorts of activities like having tea together and taking walks and just talking about things that they may not be comfortable telling friends or even family members about. I know that as a volunteer our greatest gift is to give of our time and our companionship. But the truth is, it is we who receive so much because the people we come to help have enriched us.”

(left to right): Deborah Lavender, Executive Director, Hospice of Peel; Brian Freedman, President of The Dorothy Ley Hospice; Ruth Yates, V.P. Patient Programs, William Osler Health Centre & Campus Administrator for Brampton Memorial Hospital Campus; Mary Tucci, Board Member, Hospice Vaughan; and Caroline Harding, Executive Director, Hospice Caledon.

Deborah Lavender, Executive Director of the Hospice of Peel is very pleased with the partnership and feels it is validation of the important work the hospices do every day helping people like Joan Kulhane enjoy life while dealing with a serious illness.

“This partnership recognizes the importance of community hospice and acknowledges the skill and expertise they offer in the care and support of palliative care patients,” notes Deborah. “The other benefit of this partnership is that through the specialized training we provide our volunteers, there will be a continuity of care and service to our patients whether they receive that care at home through our hospice or at William Osler Health Centre.”

Joan doesn’t think of palliative care as a place to go and die. “Most people think of this as a way to comfortably wait for the end to come. For me, palliative care is a place to go and live. The volunteers who spend time with you and talk to you give us a quality of life that would be hard to enjoy without their compassion without their hope.”

And how great is the need for these special volunteers?

“I would say the need, especially in Peel Region, is very great,” says Deborah. “Every year Hospice of Peel serves approximately 500 clients and some 1700 family members. We have about 150 client volunteers. I also think that people don’t realize palliative care is not only for the very elderly. Of those 500 people about 30 per cent are young families, some are children and from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds. So we need volunteers both young and older and who reflect the diversity of our community.”

At the Brampton Memorial Hospital Campus there are 11 volunteers in the palliative care service and one volunteer at the Etobicoke Hospital Campus. Andrea is definitely looking forward to seeing more volunteers coming on board as a result of the partnership and sharing of resources. “Training for volunteers is happening this spring and I really can’t wait. This really is a school for life and I don’t think you can learn enough.”

Sometimes something as simple as getting up and getting your face washed can be a real challenge for people who are so sick. “It is so important to have as much normalcy in your life,” says Joan who now receives in-home hospice care through the Hospice of Peel. “That is what the volunteers do for me and it keeps me going. I feel valuable and important. I have a quality of life and I have the people who work in palliative care to thank for that.”

For more information on how to become a Hospice Palliative Care volunteer, please contact William Osler Health Centre’s Volunteer and Community Resources Office at 905 796-4053.