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Creating a compassionate community

By Moneca Jantzen The first time I ever set foot in the Marjorie Willoughby Snowden Memorial Hospice Home was to say a final good-bye to a dear friend.

By Moneca Jantzen

The first time I ever set foot in the Marjorie Willoughby Snowden Memorial Hospice Home was to say a final good-bye to a dear friend. I knew my friend had a strong connection to the local hospice and that she was both relieved and pleased to know that her journey’s end would likely land her in this beautiful and comforting place. As painful as it was to say farewell, it was reassuring to see my friend in this safe haven during her final days, a place she genuinely wanted to be at that stage of her illness.

When Wendy Marlow accepted her current role six years ago as executive director of Kamloops Hospice Association, she also accepted the challenge of sharing awareness about our “best kept secret” and letting “Kamloops know that end of life services were available.”

This organization provides both hospice home care and community support which means that besides the 12 private rooms at the Marjorie Willoughby Snowden Hospice Home perched above the city in Sahali, their mission includes helping people “live until they die” offering “compassionate physical, emotional and spiritual care in the setting of the individual’s choice.”

Beyond this primary function, the hospice association also aims to educate, which they accomplish in a number of ways.

“We have ongoing staff and volunteer education and increased requests to provide education to healthcare professionals in our community. We provide student education and practicums for Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Care Aides. The Hospice Home is part of the Physician Residency program,” said Marlow.

Kamloops can consider itself a very “compassionate community” as time and time again it comes through with volunteers and donations in support of hospice.

Marlow points out that the local hospice has over 100 volunteers which include trained patient volunteers that provide companionship to palliative patients in their home; thrift store volunteers at Flutter Buys; board members, administration/reception, bakers and cooks. Music therapy, library, pet therapy, fundraising, and crafting are other areas that rely on volunteers.

“We have to raise 50 percent of our budget or $1 million dollars per year to continue to serve our community and yes, our community comes through every year with the resources required,” said Marlow.

Donors give to hospice in a number of ways including memorial donations or fundraisers, as well as fulfilling the “wish list” which is posted at the house and could include anything from a pound of coffee for the kitchen to some much needed medical equipment.

Community service groups also fund special projects and provide labour when pathways need building or garden clean up needs doing, for example.

The Kamloops hospice actually serves a fairly broad area which includes the Thompson, Cariboo and Nicola regions; from Clearwater through to Salmon Arm, to Lillooet and Merritt.

“There is a process for admission to Hospice which is based on medical criteria and bed availability, but the average length of stay at hospice is two weeks. This includes patients who are with us a very short time—a few days or a few hours—to patients who are with us for several weeks.”

“What’s important is that the patient and the family are in a comfortable space where they can feel at home and focus on their time together. Our hospice home is patient and family focused. I like to describe it this way­—if a patient wants ice-cream for breakfast they can have it, and if they want to be outside in February, we can wrap them in quilts and wheel their bed outside on our patio,” said Marlow.

Recently there has been an increase in government attention towards hospice/palliative care.

“This has helped our effort to bring more attention and resources to end of life care. One area of focus has been on palliative care training for healthcare professionals and providing funding for hospices to initiate new programs such as Hospice Day Programs or to provide Advanced Care Planning workshops,” said Marlow.

These planning workshops are an important step in creating a compassionate community.

“End of Life discussions are not the norm in Canada. We want to encourage people to be start talking about end of life and their wishes with their family. We offer a workshop called ‘Start the conversation.’ It’s a 2 hour workshop in which we ask people to consider their values (what’s important to them) and who would speak for them if they couldn’t speak for themselves. Then they are encouraged to talk with their loved ones about their wishes. It’s a beautiful gift for family to know what end of life wishes their loved one desires,” explained Marlow.

Hospice must also meet the community’s needs by providing education, grief counselling, medical care and social opportunities for palliative patients who may be feeling isolated. There is always more to accomplish.

“There is much more to do with regards to palliative/hospice care, including (providing) more supports in the home, more physician support and processes to ensure palliative patients don’t spend extended periods of time in the Emergency Department. I am encouraged by the collaboration by RIH, Community Care and Hospice to provide the best possible care to palliative/hospice patients in our community,” said Marlow.

One of the fundraising highlights of the year is the 20th Annual Evening to Remember Gala coming up this year at the Coast Hotel on May 4. It includes a dinner, silent/live auction and dance.

“This year’s theme is The Enchanted Garden, the magic of compassionate care. We have a significant number of sponsors and supporters and our tickets are over 80 percent sold (with the event two weeks away.) Our goal this year is to raise $125,000 for Hospice. Although there are many fundraising events in the spring, the citizens of Kamloops rise to the occasion and provide support to so many worthy causes. We anticipate hosting over 450 guests,” said Marlow.

Other exciting news revolves around the planned Cooper Family Foundation building expansion.This “Community Services Centre” will include a resource corner, training and workshop room, an alternate therapy room and an inviting space for group counselling, the hospice day program and family meetings.

To further reinforce the fact that we are indeed part of a compassionate community, with the Kamloops Hospice Association leading the way, Marlow potentially sums up what it really is all about:

“We have an amazing staff who provide exceptional end of life care. I love how our staff takes time to be present with our patients and listen to their stories and wishes. We have had the opportunity to assist patients in fulfilling their wishes; something as simple as ‘I wish I could put my feet on the ground’ to ‘I wish I could hear the roar of a Ferrari engine’ – we made some calls and a day later a red Ferrari (complete with driver) arrived in our parking lot. Then there was the time the staff who created Christmas in July for a patient who loved Christmas and wouldn’t live to December. There are many stories of how by taking time to listen to our patients, our staff and volunteers have brought joy to our patients and their families.”