Hospice Muskoka is growing and wants to raise awareness about what they do, but primarily “to change the way people experience death,” said Matt Steer, public relations and funds development co-ordinator for the organization. He spoke to Gravenhurst council at their January meeting about their goals and where they are at in achieving them.
He said that they not only offer care, but are hoping to “change the mindsets of many people and a change in the way people talk about death.”
Since 2020, Andy’s House in Port Carling has been the hub of Hospice Muskoka, and is the first nurse practitioner-led hospice in Ontario. “It was built entirely from donation dollars and provides round-the-clock care for residents as well as space for their visitors to cook, relax and be together.,” explained Steer. There are currently nine beds, including a ready-to-launch pediatric care room in partnership with the Sick Kids organization.
However, a misconception exists that Andy’s House is only for Port Carling residents, Steer said. The catchment area is quite large though, and “all services are free and available to South and North Muskoka residents, including seasonal residents, which makes up over a population of 100,000.”
The approach to hospice care is holistic and takes into consideration four types of pain: physical, emotional, spiritual and social and this is achieved through focusing on quality of life, right through to the last breath.
“Hospice staff and volunteers walk beside a person and their loved ones throughout their journey, from advance care planning to bereavement support. Hospice Muskoka already provides services and programs across the entirety of south and western Muskoka. Our hospice beds free up space in acute care settings, resulting in significant reductions in visits to emergency rooms and are a huge avoidance to the healthcare system.”
While some government funding helps in the running of three palliative care rooms, the majority of funding comes from donations, grants and fundraising initiatives. Steer said that they are currently “petitioning Ontario Health to fully fund all of our beds. In the meantime, we have a short-term solution with a recently extended contract with Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare at Bracebridge Hospital, who are currently funding five beds at very high occupancy. Hospice Muskoka is responsible for raising funds to cover support staff, equipment, medical supplies, capital improvements and our volunteer-driven programs. “
Between Oct. 2020, when Andy’s House first opened and December 31, 2022, there were 201 residents, 106 grief and bereavement clients and 43 palliative patients and eight others who received some form of additional help. Steer emphasized that out of the 358 people that were helped, 99 were from Gravenhurst.
Currently Hospice Muskoka is working with the Cottage Country Family Health Team to open a site in the upstairs part of the Family Health Team office in Gravenhurst. The target is to open in 2024.
“This will not be a residential facility but it would be where we would hold palliative pain and symptom management clinics, grief and bereavement sessions, advanced care planning sessions and caregiver support programming. We are also working with the Homecare organization to provide palliative care, nursing and PSW services to the people of southwest Muskoka who want to stay at home to die,” said Steer. These services would also launch in 2024.
Another target is to support children and youth who are affected by death. Steer said that they hope to “further our grief and bereavement services to help young people, in partnerships with schools, to give them the ability to process and manage potential mental health issues before they develop into destructive behaviours. We know that there are people in the community who are not getting the end-of-life that they need, they are dying at home without the right support and their caregivers are burning out. We’re in a crisis right now and Hospice Muskoka has a piece of the solution.”
For being a small, regional organization, he said “we are growing, innovating and actually helping shape what hospice care looks like across the entire province. Specialist grants and funding from government organizations are necessary to help us sustain our current programming. Last year we did ask district council for $100,000 funding over five years that would also be given to Hospice Huntsville, who take care of the northeast side of Muskoka.” Those funds allowed for the upgrade of the electronic medical record system, which enables hospitals across the region to integrate, and “$1.2 million was split between five regional hospices to help transition seamlessly.”
Ontario’s Trillium Foundation also gave a grant of $150,000 to help supply nurse practitioners and social workers. An event to mark this occasion will be held on Feb. 17, with mayors from each town in the catchment area, alongside MPP Graydon Smith, “who has been a very strong supporter of our work as well the deputy Health Minister of Ontario.” Steer said he was not asking council today for money, but with the planned growth of Hospice Muskoka, “funding is vitally important. We are asking for support to achieve the funding we require from federal, provincial and municipal sources.”
Steer said that raising awareness is key. “I would like you to help spread the word in the community…there are many families that we work with that have little or no prior knowledge of Hospice Muskoka, meaning they are missing out on services that they need. At the very least, I would encourage you to talk to a neighbour, a friend, a family member or colleague about what we do and have those difficult conversations about death with your family because the more you have them, the more you’ll realize that they aren’t about death, but about quality of life.”
At the end of the presentation, Coun. Johnston said he had seen firsthand the difference hospice care makes and he asked how the Town as a whole could assist. Steer said that in addition to getting the word out about their services, that talking to, or writing to those in various levels of government is beneficial, because “emails coming in from people in positions of power and respect…can hopefully continue to drive that change.”
Coun. Morphy suggested that because council is often approached for funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, local share of hospitals and other medical needs, “that maybe it’s time to look at dedicating a percentage of our revenue streams to a fund for this, so that’s always building.” Mayor Lorenz said that would be something to be discussed in upcoming budget deliberations.
The next Committee of the Whole meeting is on Feb. 14 at 3:00p.m. and can also be viewed on the Town of Gravenhurst’s YouTube channel.
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