Hundreds of Cowichan residents emphasize need for hospice

A group of about 200 Valley residents turned out June 30 to show that Cowichan is serious about the need for a dedicated hospice residence.

A group of about 200 Valley residents turned out June 30 to show the Island Health board of directors that Cowichan is serious about the need for a dedicated hospice residence.

“I think it was an opportunity to tell them we really want this,” said Gretchen Hartley, executive director of Cowichan Hospice.

“There hasn’t been a palliative ward in our [Cowichan District] Hospital for 15 years,” she said. “People die at home, which is where most of us want to die, but the reality is oftentimes towards the end, or if you are a widow or widower, it doesn’t always work out that way,” Hartley said.

“The staff do a wonderful job at our facilities but often people end up in four-bed wards; even if they can secure a private room, it’s often a tiny room so it’s hard to have a good family presence there.

“And sometimes people even die in the side ward at emergency,” she said.

There are only three hospice beds nearby at present: two at Ladysmith and one at Chemainus, both in the north end of the region.

Hospice facilities are different from both acute care hospital and long term care situations: they must allow more space for the families who want to be part of the end of the patient’s life, Hartley said.

Because there’s an older demographic in the Cowichan Valley, the problem is really an issue here, she added.

But now there is a great opportunity to move forward.

Island Health has promised to double the number of hospice beds in its area by 2020 — that’s a provincial mandate.

“We know there’s a need and we know there’s an intention in Cowichan to bring together a cluster of hospice beds,” Hartley said.

“Once you start talking about a hospice facility, then you make hospice palliative care possible. It’s different; it’s whole person care. Family can be included. There’s room for pets. It’s typically designed so that somebody can go outside to get some fresh air. And the care there is provided by specially trained staff. It’s focused on each person’s needs and wants.”

“Right now, we’re looking at [situating a hospice ward at] Cairnsmore,” she said, pointing out that sharing of laundry and other services would be an advantage.

Supporters of the idea here were heartened that the Island Health board liked the concept as well, according to Hartley.

“The response was very positive,” she said.