Although it has only been operating for less than one year, the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital’s palliative care unit has touched countless lives.
“It has made a huge difference in so many ways,” Dr. Phillip Cooper, one of the palliative care physicians in the region, said.
He added in the hospital “we have always provided care in less than ideal conditions,” noting it had taken place, with little or no privacy, in four-bed wards.
“It is much more comfortable for everyone concerned,” Cooper said of the offerings now available for patients and their families
The effort to establish a palliative care unit at St. Martha’s has been taking place for more than a decade, one spearheaded by the former Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority (GASHA) and the Antigonish Town and County Palliative Care Society.
“We are so happy, so proud,” Cooper, who is also a society member, said.
The collaborative effort to open the facility includes support from the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation (SMRHF), which contributed $600,000 in capital funding for the initiative.
“We were so pleased to be able to support such an incredible project.” Wayne Ezekiel, SMRHF chair, said.
He noted “the benefits to our community are remarkable.”
“We have heard incredible stories from families who have used the new kitchen to cook a Sunday dinner, or stories where patients and their families have become so close to the palliative care staff and physicians, they feel like they’ve become family.
“It’s been a blessing,” Ezekiel added.
Joe MacDonald, SMRHF past chair, said the effort reflected one of its main tenets, “providing enhanced healthcare.”
“It is why we exist,” he added.
MacDonald described the initiative as “an excellent example of an incredible community partnership.”
Along with the SMRHF’s financial contribution, the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Auxiliary contributed $150,000 for furniture and equipment, while the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) carries out and funds the palliative care offered by the unit.
“We are very proud,” MacDonald said of its involvement in creating “one of the best units in any hospital in Nova Scotia.”
MacDonald praised the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha for the foundation they created in building and establishing the hospital that now houses the palliative care unit.
Cooper said it has given the opportunity to provide care “in a compassionate and dignified setting,” as a reflection of the Marthas’ mission.
‘Comforts of home’
There is a misconception that palliative care only focuses on the final days, weeks or months of a patient’s life, when there are no longer any treatment options.
It can be an option early in an illness, even at diagnosis.
Palliative care affects the whole person and their family, while enhancing the quality of life for those with life-limiting illnesses by relieving suffering.
It focuses on helping the family cope with their loved one’s illness and prepare for their possible death, along with the grieving process.
“It allows them to sit quietly and relax,” Cooper said, in talking about the importance of the family rooms provided in the palliative care unit.
Those spaces help make that time together “as meaningful as possible.”
Along with the second-to-none medical care the unit provides to help deal with pain and illness, there is social, psychological, emotional and spiritual support, which is also available for family, friends and caregivers.
As part of its focus on providing patients – and their families – with ‘safety and comfort,’ while having a healthcare team by their side, the palliative care unit, with its modern family rooms and kitchen, reminds people of ‘the comforts of home.’
Staying at home
The opening of the new unit does not mean an end to offering palliative care at home.
“It is wonderful (the unit), but it is not for everyone,” Cooper said, noting most patients opt to receive their care at home.
Palliative care team members work with the family to develop a support and care plan for them.
If there is special equipment required to carry out that ‘stay-at-home’ plan, the Antigonish Town and County Palliative Care Society is there to help, including providing home supports, education, comfort and dignity to people who have advanced illnesses, their families and caregivers.
The volunteer organization also provides monitors, pill organizers, bed pans, bed rails, hospital bed-side tables and other equipment to patients who may not be able to afford it.
“We are so pleased to be able to support this work,” society member John R. MacDougall said.
He noted providing equipment is just one of the many focuses for the society.
“If providing funding to purchase the necessary equipment or supports allows someone to stay at home, if they choose, or stay home a little longer before they must go to the new unit, is an incredible gift,” he added.
To help purchase in-home equipment, as well as provide education in the community, education for palliative staff and volunteers, along with additional supports, the Antigonish Town and County Palliative Care Society annually stages several fundraisers.
The next one – led by the Kelly family, in honour of their late matriarch Elsie – will take place May 4, at the St. Joseph’s Lakeside Community Centre.
Along with a dance, featuring the music of Sparrow, there will be a silent auction and prizes.
Tickets, which are $15, can be purchased from society members or Mark and Ralph Kelly.
For more information or to give to the Antigonish Town and County Palliative Care Society, call 902-863-6292.
Speaking of fundraising, the SMRHF continues the campaign to increase its endowment fund to $20 million goal by 2026.
“It has been a great success, but we still have work to do,” MacDonald said.
He described the support, thus far, coming from families, businesses, and organizations as “amazing.”
“We want to ensure that St. Martha’s has some of the best and most innovative equipment and resources available to allow staff and physicians to provide top-notch, quality care to the community,” SMRHF executive director Sarah MacDonald said.
She noted The St. Martha’s and You … The Time is NOW Campaign continues to need help.
“We would love to speak with you more about how you can be part of the campaign, as multi-year donor or a volunteer,” Sarah MacDonald added.
“There are so many ways that community members and local businesses can give to the foundation and support incredible initiatives like equipment purchases, new renovations, like the palliative care wing, or education opportunities for staff and physicians.”
To learn more about how you can support the SMRHF, visit their office (St. Martha’s first floor), website (www.smrhfoundation.com), or call 902-863-1131.