WILLIAMSBURG – Palliative care is not about dying, it’s about living.
At Dundas County Hospice (DCH), that principle has helped founders, supporters, volunteers, staff members, and clients tackle the tough realities of facing end-of-life needs in a rural area.
This year, the organization celebrates its 25th anniversary – a milestone that hospice board members say was built on the backs of volunteers and community generosity.
“In a rural community, when people know they’re dying, unfortunately a popular option is to move out of the community to get support,” said Bob Pitruniak, longtime board member and current treasurer. “The hospice has been able to help them stay at home perhaps longer than they might have been able to otherwise, and the only reason we’ve [DCH] been able to do so comes down to the fantastic, continuing support of the community. Not just financial support, but volunteer support, too.”
Most of the hospice’s services – including the day programs, transportation arrangements, in-home visits, complementary therapies, and support groups – rely on the help of volunteers to be run year round.
It all started in 1992, when a group of concerned residents founded the non-profit in order to fill the obvious gap of hospice services available in the area.
At the time, many rural residents facing terminal situations were being forced to leave their homes to receive the end-of-life care they required, often moving to Cornwall for specialized support.
“We did a survey in ’92 to gauge the needs of Dundas County, and transportation was at the top…For some of these folks, going to Cornwall for hospice care might as well be in Timbuktu,” said Jan Clapp, one of the founding members. “We thought people needed to be supported at home for as long as possible, where they have roots.”
According to both Clapp and Pitruniak, Mary Beattie and Harry Wenz were two of the most passionate advocates, laying the foundation for the hospice to become what it is today.
“They were the lightning bolts of the operation,” Clapp said. “They believed in helping the terminally ill and raising awareness about the benefits of at-home care.”
The non-profit started out as a visiting hospice based out of the J.W. MacIntosh Seniors’ Support Centre in a 12-by-12 office, training volunteers to visit clients in their homes through a companionship program designed to improve quality of life.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the organization’s space grew, after a generous donation catapulted DCH to purchase a residential home on County Road 31 and convert it to a home-like head office. The extra space afforded the hospice an opportunity to expand its services.
The options have slowly but surely expanded to include a day program, with activities planned for able-bodied clients to participate in discussions, music, yoga, crafts, games, pet therapies, and outings, with lunch provided and transportation arranged.
They also have visiting volunteers that come into a client’s home to offer companionship and respite for the caregiver.
The equipment loaning program has been a popular addition to the services, with items like electric lift chairs, walkers, wheelchairs, bath chairs, raised toilet seats, crutches, and more available for a period of time at no cost. DCH also loans to people on a short-term basis for those who are recovering from surgery, accident, or illness. The hospice also has soft supplies like sheepskin, bed pads, and afghans available.
The complementary therapies they offer are foot care, massage, and Reiki for pain control, while board members are currently looking for a volunteer hairdresser who can be mobile and give haircuts to clients in their homes.
The caregiver support program offers group settings or one-on-one volunteers to meet with family members, who can also connect clients with community resources.
A bereavement support group for grieving family and friends is also offered in a group setting or one-on-one.
Last but not least, DCH houses a library of resources full of books and videos that can be loaned out in the community.
“Raising awareness about what [DCH] does is something we need to increase,” said Pitruniak. “The need for end-of-life care will always be there. It’s not going away. The reality is that it costs tremendously more to keep a citizen of Ontario in a hospital bed than it is to keep them at home.”
According to the 2014 Auditor General of Ontario’s report, it costs $1,100 a day for palliative care in an acute-care hospital bed, while residential hospice costs $460 a day and at-home care costs just under $100 a day.
“Would you rather a meal cooked in your kitchen, or hospital food?” posed Pitruniak. “Would you rather sleep in your own bed, or in an institutional bed? In 25 years, the community support has been a tremendous help for [DCH] to give rural clients the option of living life to the fullest, with integrity, until the very end.”