For years, Toronto Commandery Foundation has been trying to set up a hospice for terminally ill people, but has been unable to find a home.

Hospice need is recognized, but little done to address it

  • August 24, 2011

TORONTO - For six years, the Toronto Commandery Foundation has been trying to find a site for a hospice that will allow terminally ill people to die with dignity.

But as the foundation has discovered, though everyone seems to agree on the need, no one wants to address it.

The foundation, a charity established with the co-operation of the Order of St. Lazarus, has spent its entire existence searching and negotiating for a site in North York to host a 10-bed end-of-life care facility. Though unsuccessful so far, there are no plans to stop looking any time soon.

“We’ve got all these oncologists saying we need a hospice, but there’s just nowhere for them to go,” said Jacqueline Wood, director of the foundation.

The Toronto Commandery Foundation was created out of this need, shared by a vast majority of Canadians. According to the Canadian Palliative Care Association, three-quarters of the 220,000 Canadians who die every year are in hospital or long-term care, while only 15 per cent have access to palliative or hospice care. On average, the cost of a bed in a hospice per day is $439, while a bed in a hospital or long-term care is nearly double.

Progress is being made, however, to make hospice care available to more Ontarians. Since 2005, the Ministry of Health has committed more than $120 million to end-of-life care, creating 6,000 more spots for terminally ill patients.

“(End-of-life care) is an important component of the health care system,” said Andrew Morrison, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. “It’s an area that often has an unfortunate outcome, nevertheless, it aims to reduce the suffering and improve the quality of life of patients.”

Palliative care is also a major part of the ministry-sponsored Integrated Client Care Project, a multi-year initiative still in development that aims to increase the efficiency of various branches of health care.

The Ontario government has committed to cover nursing costs of the Toronto Commandery Foundation once its hospice finds a home. But the problem still remains finding a location. The foundation has been unable to arrange to use land owned by any of its three preferred sites: North York General Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital and St. John’s Rehab Hospital.

“We’ve done everything that we can do,” said Wood, who has volunteered and worked in hospice care for 26 years. “We’ve looked at 13 locations. We’ve put together a complete business plan.”

But for Wood, it’s not about money.

“We believe you take care of life from birth to death,” she said. “It’s the holistic approach of hospice that people need.”

This approach focuses on allowing terminally ill people to spend their last days doing “whatever they’d like to do.” The Toronto Commandery Hospice would be a home-like setting, complete with a kitchen, dining room and living room, Wood explained, where each guest has their own room.

“You try to fulfill their spiritual needs… even if it’s just holding their hand,” she said. “They can laugh and joke and even have a drink for God’s sake.”

In the past quarter of a century, Wood has seen plenty of people in their last days in hospice care. Whether it’s the quiet environment, having family around or even inviting friends over to share pizza at midnight — as a resident did in one of Wood’s past hospices — dying people appreciate this type of care, she said.

“Every hospice where I’ve been, the Catholic Church — the Catholic conscience — is always there,” said Wood. “We believe in the sanctity of life. If you choose to die with dignity, you never die alone.”

Rather than curative care, which is the focus in hospitals, hospices focus on comfort and quality of life while it lasts.

“Hospice is a philosophy of care,” said Wood. “You treat the whole person, you don’t treat the disease.”

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