THOSE behind a program providing an essential lifeline for patients living with a life-threatening illness and their families are issuing a call to raise both funds and awareness in hopes of expanding its scope.
The North Shore Palliative and Supportive Care Day Program, an out-patient program for seriously ill patients and their caregivers, is currently offered Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the North Shore Hospice in North Vancouver. It's funded through the North Shore Hospice Society, which supports care programs, provides assistance to palliative patients and their families, and conducts community outreach and education.
With a focus on affirming life and living it to the fullest, participants in the day program can be themselves in a caring, compassionate, enjoyable and home-like setting, finding rest and relaxation as well as an opportunity to forge supportive relationships.
Based on the day program's success and positive impact, administrators hope to attract additional patients, as well as to expand the program to four days per week and add programming for caregivers.
"It can be a lonely journey fighting a life-threatening illness," says Jane Webley, manager of the North Shore Palliative and Supportive Care Program. "You'll hear a lot of people say 'Why me?' Everybody else goes on with their life because everybody else around them is still able to, so they get left further and further behind. So actually coming together with other people that are also getting left behind, they're on the same road."
The day program is the only of its kind in Western Canada. Common elsewhere (including the United Kingdom), Webley brought the idea to the North Shore Hospice Society, which got on board as a partner. It was launched as a pilot in March 2011.
"We want to make sure that people don't think you have to be hospice-appropriate to come to the palliative care day program," says Webley.
The North Shore Hospice, located at 314 East 14th St., in North Vancouver, is funded and operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, and serves patients with a life expectancy of three months or less.
Also offered at the new hospice site is the North Shore Palliative and Supportive Care Program, which supports people facing a life-threatening illness or disease.
"Part of that program includes people approaching the end of their life and if they can't manage at home, they can be cared for in hospice," says Dr. Peter Edmunds, medical director, Palliative and Supportive Care Program for the Coastal division of Vancouver Coastal Health, and a hospice society board member. "Kind of between those two phases is this time where people are still managing at home, they're quite sick and need a lot more support and their families need a lot more support and that's the place for the day program."
Day program support for North Shore adults 19 and over is provided by palliative professionals and includes: psychosocial; symptom control, including access to a physician or nurse; use of the hospice's physical resources, which range from a hydrotherapy tub to a spa room and caregiver respite. Transportation can be arranged if that's a barrier to attendance and lunch is served at a cost of $6 (subsidies are available), otherwise the program is offered at no cost to participants.
"It's a way of keeping people at home as long as they possibly can," says Webley.
Each patient's experience in the program is unique, tailored to fit their particular needs. Their time in the program is usually 12 weeks. On average, five people attend per day.
With increased funding, administrators hope to offer: a caregiver's day, connecting them with their peers, and providing practical and emotional support; as well as sessions for caregivers who've recently lost their loved ones, aiding in the bereavement process.
Patients can be, at times, resistant to attending the day program, as it's held at the hospice and they fear what that means and taking that step. "They do say, 'Is there something you're not telling me doc?' . . . . And once they come, almost always,
I have not seen one person leave and not come back again," says Dr. Anis Lakha, palliative care physician, North Shore Palliative and Supportive Care Program, and a hospice society board member.
"They think before they come that it's hospice and it's the end, and then what they find out that actually it's to help them live until they die rather than just wait to die, and that's really the whole point of palliative care," adds Edmunds.
The day program has many benefits, says Lakha. Not only does it introduce patients to the range of services and types of care provided at the hospice, it allows them to meet community members facing similar health challenges. "The families are also finding support," says Webley. "We've noticed that sometimes the relative will drop (the patient) off and then the two relatives will go and have coffee, so they have the chance to also share."
The North Shore Hospice Society has committed to funding the day program as is for a total of three years, at approximately $36,000 per year. To sustain and expand it as administrators desire, including adding music therapy and additional counselling and registered nursing services, it will require approximately $100,000 annually. To support that goal, an invitation-only fundraiser has been scheduled for May 17.
Alternatively, those interested in offering financial support, can contact the North Shore Hospice Society, by visiting www.northshorehospice.ca.
Those interested in participating in the program can speak to their doctor for a referral, fill out an application form on the program's website, www.coastalpalliativecare.ca/day-program or phone Jane Jordan at 604-984-3743.