Victoria Hospice staff Brianne Ohl, left, Angela Chalmers, right, and Sandi Ogloff, at back, show off their buttons that show a picture of them smiling. Staff has worked hard to maintain the connections with patients despite the barriers of PPE and rigid COVID-19 protocols. (Victoria Hospice Photo)

Victoria Hospice staff Brianne Ohl, left, Angela Chalmers, right, and Sandi Ogloff, at back, show off their buttons that show a picture of them smiling. Staff has worked hard to maintain the connections with patients despite the barriers of PPE and rigid COVID-19 protocols. (Victoria Hospice Photo)

Hospice at 40: sharing compassion in a time of COVID

Victoria Hospice 40th anniversary on pause during pandemic

Victoria Hospice should be celebrating 40 years of providing end-of-life care for south Island residents.

But a little thing called a pandemic means it can’t, leading to another year of flying under the radar for the staff and volunteers who have made Victoria Hospice a North American leader in the area of palliative care since it started in 1980.

In 2020, $4.7 million of Victoria Hospice’s $9.7 million operating budget came from donations and fundraising. Events such as the eighth annual Cycle of Life Tour (which funds nine Vancouver Island hospice societies) were postponed, as most efforts shifted to dealing with the added protocols COVID-19 has put on the organization.

“We do things through connection, it’s all about connection, and that means at our events. We had great plans to bring together stakeholders and our supporters to celebrate 40 years,” said CEO Kevin Harter. “We keep hoping the restrictions can lighten up so we can do more, unfortunately, it’s not working out these days.”

Hospice’s frontline workers are in line for COVID-19 vaccines too, but that’s still to be sorted and will be many months.

Since April, nurses in the hospice’s facility on the Royal Jubilee Hospital campus have worn a button on their scrubs with a picture of their smiling face. It’s one innovation to help maintain the connection with patients and families that is so key for hospice workers, amid the onset of rigid safety protocols.

READ ALSO: Province funds 15 new beds for end-of-life care in Victoria

“It’s challenging for our staff. They come to work with such passion to care for people, and that passion is designed around having a very person-centered approach,” said Harter. “Families are challenged [too]. They have a loved one at [the final] stage in their life … and visitations are limited. Where there was less structure [for our patients], there is now a lot of structure.”

Victoria Hospice statistics show the number of residents benefitting from end-of-life care. (Victoria Hospice Annual Report)

One of the challenges that hospice faces is an ongoing lack of awareness and misunderstanding in the community. There are a few reasons for that, said hospice bereavement counsellor Marney Thompson.

Thompson first came to the hospice in 1989 to do a practicum as a university student, then as a volunteer, and then as a counsellor. In 2003, Thompson co-authored the book Transitions and Dying in Bereavement, which won an award and had a second edition in 2017. She’s been through all the hospice’s counselling roles, in the community, on the floor, on the mobile palliative response team, and in non-clinical situations as a supervisor and teacher.

Internationally, she believes the palliative care sector still has work to do championing what hospice care really is. Locally, there can be a disconnect because not all who die go through the hospice experience. Those people who do have a loved one got through it, however, become lifelong supporters.

It’s about supporting the family and community around the patient, in addition to supporting the patient in their end of life.

Staff and volunteers of Victoria Hospice in the 1980s.
(Victoria Hospice Photo)

“A lot of the public [only] think of it as a place to go when you’re dying,” Thompson said. “[End of life care] grew out of that desire to have whole-person comfort. Over the decades it’s become more understood and integrated into other areas of health care. It’s interdisciplinary. That’s a given.”

That means that, unlike in the 1980s, or even 2000s, people who come to work at a hospice now have a general understanding of what the care includes, which is a compassionate, interdisciplinary approach of physicians, nurses, and other allies in health. And since it started, Victoria Hospice has been at the forefront of that model.

The concept of end-of-life care was in its infancy in Victoria when the Victoria Hospice Society was born in 1983, a merger of Hospice Victoria and the Victoria Association of the Dying. The latter was a grassroots project started by volunteers in 1978 to develop a new model of care for the dying. When the Ministry of Health recognized the benefits, it deemed the work an essential service.

From the start, hospice’s staff have been leaders in the model of end of life care, a legacy of those pioneer volunteers from the Victoria Association of the Dying. That’s reflected in hospice’s own education and research department.

The education department offers its own courses and also partners with universities, such as the Master Class in Palliative Care, Better Together, which had 430 participants in partnership with University of B.C., and two courses on palliative care pharmacy that drew 90 participants through the University of Victoria.

READ ALSO:Oak Bay doctor retires after 34 years at Victoria Hospice

READ MORE: Mobile palliative care team launches to reach Victoria’s homeless population

“When we go to conferences, we have a strong reputation. People come here to study what we do,” Thompson said.

And yet, it’s a balance for those staff who bring compassion to the job each and every day, she added.

There’s a reason that so many people who have had loved ones come through the hospice remain lifelong supporters and donors, because of their experience with staff.

“It’s meaningful and satisfying work. It’s an environment where the impact of the work is understood and recognized. We care about each other. We spend time checking in on the impact and meaning of the work.”

Last year the provincial government provided funding to bring hospice up to 18 beds. In a normal year hospice has 300 trained volunteers help out, and in 2019-20 it had 63 volunteers put in more than 100 hours.

Hospice also opened the Community Support Centre on Chatterton Way in Royal Oak. It was hospice’s biggest expansion since creating a mobile palliative response team in 1989.

The Community Support Centre has reduced waitlists for bereavement counselling, relieving pressure on the main facility at the Jubilee. It has also helped “fast-track” counselling sessions for residents who have experienced sudden loss.

Since COVID arrived, one-on-one counselling sessions have predominantly happened online but some are in person, when necessary, Harter said.

“Before COVID, we would hear all the time about how our staff are angels, and the amazing job they do taking care of people. Those stories have not stopped.”

Visit victoriahospice.org for more information.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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