The Day Hospice Outreach Program was a major milestone in educating the local community about how a hospice can benefit caregivers and allow people who are terminally ill to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
Read this story: Day Hospice Outreach Program
For Marilyn Craft, a retired teacher with 47 years of experience, putting people at ease is second nature and goes hand in hand with asking questions and taking the time to listen to others.
It was those principles that Mrs. Craft, and several other volunteer seniors, put into practice when they helped lead the
"Day Hospice Outreach Program" in Saint John, New Brunswick. The pilot program was a major milestone in educating the local community about how a hospice can benefit caregivers and allow people who are terminally ill to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
The organization received funding for the Day Hospice Outreach Program under the Community Participation and Leadership component of the Government of Canada's New Horizons for Seniors Program, which encourages seniors to play an important role in their communities by helping those in need, providing leadership, and sharing their knowledge and skills with others.
Seniors on the committee led the development and marketing of the program and gave their time and expertise as volunteers once it was running. Other seniors offered their feedback after entering the program as patients.
The program,headed by the Hospice of Greater Saint John Inc., was the first of its kind in New Brunswick and was modelled after successful programs in other parts of Canada.
The goal of the program was to provide patients with a home-like setting where they could go for a day of relaxation, support and companionship. At the same time, their families and/or caregivers would have the day to do activities or errands, or get some rest, knowing that their loved one was in a safe, comfortable environment.
The incentive for the program was to provide much needed support to the terminally ill and their caregivers within the community. The committee recognized that hospice care was not well understood or developed in New Brunswick.
"We have an older population base that is very tied to their church groups and their community, so our hospice palliative care is not as well developed in this region as it is in other regions," said Sandy Johnson, registered nurse and executive director of the Hospice of Greater Saint John.
The committee, spearheaded by seniors, did a considerable amount of research with hospice programs operating across the country, and with local family physicians, nurses and other health care providers. Seniors on the committee also assisted with the program's enormous marketing efforts to raise awareness within the community.
Volunteers, families of patients and the patients themselves also helped to dispel the stigma and impression that a hospice is depressing.
"Those who came realized that hospice is about supporting the best quality of life possible," said Ms. Johnson.
"The spouses of patients have told us very clearly how valuable it was, and some came on board with us as volunteers because they were so appreciative and wanted to contribute back to the community."
Arguably, the seniors who volunteered were the heart of the program. Mrs. Craft was a volunteer and the chair of the board of directors of the program. She noted that her years as a teacher and her outgoing nature served her well as a volunteer. She also acknowledged that she learned a great deal from the patients of the program.
"I just found it to be the most rewarding experience; I looked forward to going there every day," said Mrs. Craft.
"You know, people like to tell you their life experiences; they like to tell you about their interests, and I was happy to be there and listen to that."
Mrs. Craft also shared some wisdom she gained through the program:
"What I realized is that people live until they die…. Treat them as living individuals; talk to them about everyday things. They're living and they are interested."
"We had sessions where you would have those frank conversations and the patients clearly felt they had a safe place to talk honestly about what was happening to them and be supported," said Ms. Johnson.
"But we also went beyond that—it was like, now let's do what's important to you. Let's do a scrapbook or let's just have a conversation. Tell me about your life; what kind of jobs did you have? Share your memories with us."
In addition to encouraging patients to speak freely and openly about their condition, senior volunteers helped patients gain access to emotional and spiritual support, educational services and therapy for pain and symptom management.
The benefits of the program to the larger community and the province have been countless.
"Certainly it's a huge caregiver support program, so providing them some relief is very important because then the whole family is better able to cope," said Ms. Johnson.
"If you can help support the caregiver and the patient with programs like this in the community, you help to reduce the number of hospital admissions, which of course in our community then helps to keep acute care beds for acute care services."
The pilot program was a success, and the Hospice of Greater Saint John Inc. is now establishing Atlantic Canada's first residential hospice, expected to open next spring.
"What we're hoping is that when this is up and running, we can bring back the day hospice program for people in the community not yet ready for residential hospice," said Ms. Johnson.
"I would encourage health care professionals and the community at large to embrace hospice programming because hospice is so much about quality of life," said Ms. Johnson.
"It's so much about supporting and helping people to live their best life ever, and it just enriches your life beyond your expectations. Every single person who has ever been at our service says, 'Had I only known what you could provide and what you could do for my family, I would have come to you sooner."
The Government of Canada's New Horizons for Seniors Program helps to ensure that seniors can benefit from and contribute to the quality of life in their communities through active living and participation in social activities.