Task force formed to create hospice facility

“We’re hoping by 2017/18 to be able to open the seven beds that have been allocated for our community"

The Cowichan Valley Regional District board has offered its support to the group working to create a designated hospice residence in the region.

Board members Aaron Stone, Ladysmith’s mayor, and Sean Jonas, the alternate director for Saltair/Gulf Islands, have volunteered to be a part of a task force made up of stakeholders and community members which will develop a vision for site design and location. The goal is to create the vision, raise the funds, and by 2016/17 start to work building or renovating.

“We’re hoping by 2017/18 to be able to open the seven beds that have been allocated for our community, but we’re also thinking that capacity around respite care and for future growth is something we should be thinking about as well,” Cowichan Hospice executive director Gretchen Hartley told the board.

In August of 2014 Island Health announced a plan to further enhance end of life services. With that, a total of 32 new hospice beds were promised by 2020. Cowichan is in line for four, and when added to the three already in the region, the available beds will total seven.

“The situation now is really bad. it’s as bad as it can get and, as a community, we have been asked to come up with the dollars to build something,” Dr. Val Masuda, the community’s palliative specialist, told the board. “We’re at a point where Island Health says we will do the operation and maintenance and we will give you the staff and we’re slated to do that in 2017 but, unless you have the ability to build us a facility to put those patients, we’re going to buy a few beds [in an existing care facility] and we’ll let them die at the end of the hall,” Masuda said. “That’s the option.”

Every week at the hospital, she explained, staff sit down and talk about the patients they identify as actively dying.

“There’ll be 20 people,” she said. “And these people have care needs where we can’t send them home because they have complex care needs or we can’t send them home because they don’t have family or their family is challenged and they can’t support that person and so those are the people who are dying in hospital.”

Those people are the ones a new hospice residence facility would serve. And the problem is only getting bigger.

Hartley noted the Cowichan Valley is one of the older demographics in the province with more elders dependent on the working population compared to other parts of B.C.

“That’s happening quicker and it’s going to become more and more of an issue,” she said.

Hartley said Island Health requires a new facility be attached to an existing residential care facility.

“We’re looking at Cowichan Lodge or Cairnsmore and we’re looking at the possibility of renovating or perhaps being able to do some new build on the site so there’s still sharing of laundry and services and potentially some of the staffing,” she said.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said the community need is something he can identify with after losing his mother this spring under less than ideal circumstances.

“She died in a residential care facility in a shared room under not perfect circumstances,” he said. “The people that were there did their best, but it wasn’t that dignified unfortunately. I do support this and I think it’s something that’s definitely lacking, that’s very, very noticeable.”

Not being at the top of Island Health’s queue gives Cowichan time to develop “something more than just a repurposed residential bed,” Hartley said.

After all, the sick and elderly of this community deserve to die with dignity, Masuda added.