For more than 30 years, a team of care professionals and volunteers at the Comox Valley Hospice Society has been offering a free support service to people who are dying, and to caregivers. They do so in homes, hospital and other facilities.
As opposed to a place, hospice is essentially a philosophy of care.
“It’s about helping people and their families live every day,” CVHS executive director Terri Odeneal said. “It’s living while dying, grieving and caregiving. You want to be able to support people to live every day absolutely to the fullest. And people can do that when they’re supported.”
The service is now complemented by a residential setting at The Views at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, for which the society has advocated for 10-plus years.
A four-bed hospice space at The Views welcomed its first patient in the summer. It is located in The Views but has a separate entrance.
Two more rooms will hopefully open in 2017.
“The staffing for the hospice is distinct, it’s not just an add-on of long-term care,” Odeneal said. “We provide comfort care to people wherever they are. So this is an expansion of the continuum of care.”
She notes a disproportionate number of people say they want to die at home. However, as a disease progresses, caregivers are sometimes unable to continue providing care if there’s not enough extended family.
“An interesting statistic is that 90 per cent of people die of chronic illness,” Odeneal said. “What that means is you have a long trajectory of when you’re diagnosed to when you die.”
The latter stage can take months or years to complete, through which caregivers are trying to navigate. The last few weeks or months can become unmanageable at home.
“This is the part of the continuum where residential hospice serves the need, and it doesn’t serve that need for everyone. It’s there for people who need that care. The bulk of people who are dying need care, whether at home, in long-term care, if they end up in hospital.”
Hospice generally comes into play in the last year of a person’s life. For residential hospice, admission criteria is a prognosis of no more than six to eight weeks of life.
Bereavement and grief support is also “a huge part of the work we do,” Odeneal said.
“It’s important for people who’ve suffered a significant loss. For some people there’s major grief periods. You’re talking about children who lose a parent, for example.”
There are occasions when a person who comes into hospice gets better.
“It’s fascinating to watch,” Odeneal said. “It gives you pause: what’s important in your life, what really matters and how you want to live every day to the fullest.”
The society promotes advance care planning — conversations about the kind of care a person wants if he or she is unable to speak for themself. For more information visit www.AdvanceCarePlanningCV.ca.
The CVHS is always seeking volunteers with flexible time, compassion and commitment to join the care team. Adults are needed in a variety of capacities.
“The Hospice Society could not function without volunteers,” Odeneal said, noting volunteers are matched with people with like interests.
“What we find is the best teachers for us in terms of the kind of care they want is the person who’s dying.”
Hospice at The Views is a $971,000 project. Island Health will provide an annual operating budget of $865,000, complemented by a CVHS budget of $234,000 annually for psychological supports, and service to patients and families.
“There are communities across this Island that don’t have access to residential hospice care,” Odeneal said. “That’s why it was so important for us to see people in this community to have access to residential hospice care, just as they do in the Lower Mainland and other communities across British Columbia.”
For more information, contact the CVHS office at 250-339-5533 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The website is comoxhospice.com.