Where’s the funding for end-of-life care in the Comox Valley?
The Comox Valley Hospice Society has been asking this question for years, but after the Health Ministry’s announcement this week of millions for hospice care in the Lower Mainland, the society is asking the question with renewed vigour.
“We’re pleased that enhancements to hospice care are being seen as a priority for the Lower Mainland,” says Comox Valley Hospice Society executive director Terri Odeneal. “That said, every British Columbian has the right to spend their last months, weeks and days receiving compassionate care in a setting of their choice.”
As Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid released a plan to improve end-of-life care in the province, she announced the Vancouver Hospice Society will receive $950,000 to complete and equip its hospice home facility.
Marion Hospice in Vancouver will receive $2 million, Peace Arch Hospice in White Rock will receive $3 million, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice in Vancouver will receive $2 million and government will commit $2 million through the Provincial Health Services Authority to establish a Provincial Centre for Excellence for end-of-life care.
Odeneal points out Comox Valley residents have been advocating for residential hospice beds for over six years, yet there are still zero dedicated hospice palliative care beds, which she says are due to a “lack of commitment of operational funding” from the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).
“Here in the Comox Valley — the boomer capital of Canada — we have people dying in four-bed mixed-gender hospital wards, on stretchers in emergency overflow areas or at home with caregivers who are physically, emotionally and financially overwhelmed,” adds Odeneal.
The Comox Valley Hospice Society has nearly $350,000 sitting in the bank for a residential hospice project in partnership with St. Joseph’s General Hospital. This money has been sitting there for years, according to Odeneal, who says the society stopped fundraising because VIHA “put off” operational funding for the project.
Meanwhile, VIHA announced in October eight residential beds and four tertiary care beds were approved for the North Island. However, VIHA director for home and community care and end-of-life care Lois Cosgrave also noted the funding still needed to be sourced as she made the announcement, and VIHA still needed to decide how those beds would be split between the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
VIHA communications officer Val Wilson says VIHA is still committed to hospice/palliative care beds on the North Island.
“We are currently working on a plan and anticipate being able to share some good news in the very near future,” says Wilson, adding she couldn’t yet share any details about funding hospice/palliative care beds for the Comox Valley. “As soon as we have more details, we will communicate this publicly; this will be welcome news for the community.”
Comox Valley Hospice Society president Audrey Craig is cautiously optimistic.
“If they truly mean that, that it’s in the ‘very near future’ then, you know, we’re willing to wait, but how long do you wait? I mean, look at the years we’ve been waiting now,” she points out.
VIHA’s strategic plan from 2007 said the Comox Valley should have had residential hospice beds by 2011, but they never came.
There are some residential hospice beds with VIHA funding on the South Island, particularly Victoria, but not much north of there, adds Craig.
“We want it to be equitable for everyone, that it shouldn’t end at Victoria,” she continues.
Odeneal notes the Comox Valley Hospice Society received word Wednesday that VIHA will provide it with $15,700 in funding this year, which is nearly as much as each of the past two years. However, she notes the society can’t count on that money for budgeting purposes because it never knows for sure whether it will be forthcoming.
Other than this funding, the society relies on grants, community fundraising and volunteers to keep the society going.