Hans Koehle announces his $11.6-million donation June 5 that will create a palliative care centre at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. Photo by Michael Swan

A giant palliative ‘payback’ for St. Joseph's Hospital

By 
  • June 6, 2018

With an $11.6-million donation, Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre will create one of the largest, most advanced and most comprehensive palliative care units in Canada.

Former patient Hans Koehle is giving the money in remembrance of his wife of 55 years, Audree, and in remembrance of the aid he received from the Sisters of St. Joseph 60 years ago. 

“It’s payback time,” Koehle told The Catholic Register as he got ready to announce the ground-breaking gift June 5 at the hospital in west Toronto. 

The 15,000 square-foot unit, consisting of 10 private rooms within the hospital but completely separate from it, will have the ability to deal with outpatients as well as resident patients. It should be constructed and operating before the end of 2019, a St. Joseph’s spokesperson said.

The story begins 60 years ago when a young Koehle spent his summer afternoons sailing on Lake Ontario. He loved racing his boat, he loved the regattas and he loved the parties afterwards. At one of these parties, a young woman dropped an earring into the cold, Lake Ontario water and he dove in after it — but it was just three feet deep. He came up paralyzed. This was before OHIP. 

“I was a young guy. Insurance was for old people,” he said. “I was not pro-insurance. I invested all my money in a convertible.”

But the Sisters running St. Joseph Hospital and the surgeon who brought him back with a week in traction and two weeks in a full body cast let him go without charge when they found out he had no insurance.

He got in his convertible, drifted to a stop sign, looked left, looked right, then gunned it.

“Luckily, there wasn’t as much traffic in Toronto at that time,” said a grinning Koehle.

After a career in business investing in film, mining, drilling and other ventures, the Koehles sold their midtown house in 2006 and moved to the west end close to St. Joseph’s.

“At this age, I get here quite a bit,” said Koehle. “The idea that the neighbourhood needed a serious palliative care unit was Audree’s. It was her who decided we needed some palliative care in the area. She had a vision it should be like a country cottage.”

Audree died in 2015 at the age of 81.

“Getting the money was the easy part,” Koehle told a room packed with St. Joseph staff and volunteers. 

“The hard part was investing it properly in St. Joe’s.”

The Koehle gifts of stocks began with a donation of more than $1 million in stocks between Christmas and New Year’s 2014. The million-dollar bundles of stocks became an annual, post-Christmas tradition until the total gift came to $11.6 million. 

The new unit, which includes 10 private rooms, will be called The Lake House with views overlooking Lake Ontario and comforts that evoke a cottage in the country. It was an idea inspired by summers spent at the Koehle family cottage on Lake Simcoe. 

“Lake House outpatient services will empower patients to stay in their own homes as long as possible. It provides them with choice,” said St. Joseph medicine and seniors care medical director Dr. Graham Berlyne in a press release.

As of March 2017, Ontario had 239 dedicated acute care palliative beds and 298 residential hospice beds. It works out to just over three hospice beds for every thousand people who die in one year in the province and 2.44 dedicated palliative care beds for every 1,000 dying people in Ontario.

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