Judy Riddell is the president of the Prince Rupert Hospice Society, a volunteer-based organization that walks along with a patient at the end of their life and offers grief support for family members and friends. The Hospice Society has been integral to making the Palliative Room Upgrade Project a reality. The main benefit, Riddell said, is people know the community is supporting them. Photo by Shannon Lough/The Northern View

VIDEO and story – For the end of life a community comes together

Prince Rupert and District Hospice Society Legacy Project for pallative care at the hospital.

At the end of life, the care provided to the person who is dying can leave a permanent impression on the people who are grieving.

The mission of the Prince Rupert and District Hospice Society is to provide dignity to those experiencing the end of their life and to support those left behind.

“This is an area where we are going to need many more services,” said Judy Riddell, president of the society.

Seniors make up 15 per cent of Prince Rupert’s population. Combine that number with those under 65-years who are diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and the need escalates for compassionate care from volunteers at the Hospice Society and specialized medical attention — or palliative care — at the hospital.

The Palliative Room Upgrade Project

A project worth $90,000 and immeasurable hours of volunteer efforts came together in only one year to meet a need that the Hospice Society felt the community and the hospital required.

The foundation for the project started with a piece of artwork.

The quiet space — a small room in the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital that is offered to patients or loved ones who need a chance to be on their own to either grieve or process their circumstances — was in need of a warmer tone.

“We simply wanted to hang artwork in the quiet room but we really wanted a better space and we knew we could do it,” said Connie Munson, acting volunteer coordinator for the Hospice Society.

“We just wanted to hang a couple of photos in a couple of rooms to brighten up the space,” she said, and so the project evolved.

The seeds of the project grew from there. Over a one-year period, the community rallied together to make the improvements necessary to uplift and brighten two palliative rooms on the third floor of the hospital, as well as the quiet room.

The rooms were painted, new counter tops, cupboards and blinds were installed and flooring was repaired. Two overhead lifts were purchased for the rooms to help reduce potential injury to the medical staff assisting the patient.

Upgraded furniture was also purchased to improve the feel of the rooms. Quality mattresses were brought in, including a gel mattress that forms to the body for extra comfort.

Knowing the importance of connectivity, the Hospice Society and Northern Health, designed the space to improve the comfort of overnight visitors as well.

“The renovations really create a home-like environment,” said Angela Szabo, director of acute care services, and one of the project managers, along with Patty Jones and members of the Hospice Society.

Donated artwork, a small counter area with tiny fridges in each room provides a familiar touch. The rooms were also fitted with comfortable couches and a specialized chair next to the bed that allows the visitor to recline to meet the gaze of the patient.

“We are providing as comfortable a nest as possible,” Riddell said.

The more loving and positive those final days are with a loved one the less traumatic the memories are for those grieving.

Community pulling together

When the project began to grow members of the society reached into their own pockets to collect the funding needed to secure other partners.

Fourteen organizations and businesses provided in-kind or financial donations to the project, including $36,500 from the Port of Prince Rupert.

“Providing a comfortable end-of-life experience for our community members is a noble cause, and we’re appreciative of the steadfast dedication shown by the volunteers of the Prince Rupert Hospice Society,” said Don Krusel, President and CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert. “It’s a testament to the kind and considerate nature of Rupertites that palliative care is available in our community, and it’s our privilege to support the Society’s work through the Community Investment Fund.”

Approximately $5,000 came from Northern Health, and the hospital staff offered in-kind services to clean, paint and prepare the room for its first visitors who could access the room by December 2015.

“The main benefit is that people know the community is supporting them. They can know that we are all together and we’re here holding a space for you,” Riddell said.

For the past eight years, the Hospice Society has been involved with palliative care in the hospital, as well as long-term care at Acropolis Manor and home visits.

Not everyone has a family or friends to be with them near the end of their life so trained volunteers also visit long-term care patients to increase socialization and provide emotional support.

“Our community has been very kind and generous with hospice and palliative care. There have been other groups over time that have renovated that space,” Szabo said.

“We’re trying to build that partnership and see that each year as we further develop our palliative care programs each donation builds on the next in terms of the quality of care we can provide.”

Szabo advised on the equipment and space layout to meet the hospital standards for safety and infection control. The upgraded palliative care rooms also benefit the hospital’s needs. When the rooms aren’t being used for patients in palliative care, Szabo said the rooms are used for people who need symptom and pain management.

Volunteering for the Hospice Society

Building a volunteer base has been a slow and steady process, Riddell said. Many of the volunteers are retired and not all of them have the availability needed to meet the growing demand.

“We’re getting busier now,” Riddell said.

The society has expanded its services to include compassionate care visits, where the individual they attend is within 18 months of the end of their life. Usually, the palliative diagnosis is within six months to the end of life.

“We walk along with the patient through their experience,” Riddell said.

Other services the society provides includes a six week grief support program, community education, and they’re formalizing advanced care plans to better prepare people for the end of their life, and avoid having family make difficult decisions when the individual is unable to.

“It’s about talking to your family and telling them that is what you’d like. If you write it down people remember,” Riddell said.

One of the community events the Hospice Society is planning is on Sunday, May 21 at the waterfront park at 2 p.m.

A Community Celebration of Remembrance welcomes all residents to join them in burning Christmas tree tags from the last year, and remembering those who have passed away.

Volunteers of all ages, belief systems and experiences are welcome to join the society. If you’re interested contact princeruperthospice@gmail.com.

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