Caring for dying in the time of COVID-19
Susan Gamble, The Brantford Expositor
Published on: May 4, 2020
The physical distancing requirements aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 have meant changes in how people can say goodbye to their loved ones at the Stedman Community Hospice,
“Our rules have changed but our overall objective is still the same – to ensure the best possible hospice experience for the patient, family and their visitors,” said executive director Elaine Calvert.
She said patients and their family members understand the new guidelines before admission.
“Everyone is provided with the information prior to an admission decision so they can understand the rules before they come. We make sure there’s a full awareness.”
The biggest change is that the hospice, with few exceptions, permits only one designated family member to be with a patient during the admission phase and one family member at a time when death is imminent. It’s similar to rules at Brantford General Hospital, where visitors are barred except for specific compassionate grounds to see dying patients.
But the design of the hospice’s Hankinson House, which opened in 2014, makes it accessible for “window visits,” said Calvert. Each of the 10 rooms that house patients has a large low window.
“They’re very popular and we are so fortunate to have a building that can accommodate privacy.”
A large deck soon will accommodate outdoors visits, too.
Hankinson House also is outfitted with technology that allows people to visit using FaceTime and Skype. And staff is on hand to support phone calls and virtual visits.
“We’re seeing every kind of device and all kinds of virtual presence you can imagine,” Calvert said. “Sometimes it even means combining a phone call with a window visit.”
Such visits are planned and co-ordinated with the staff.
“We’ve had to get very creative,” said Calvert.
“These are such unusual times but I could not be more proud of our staff. The level of co-ordination and commitment they demonstrate each day to ensure the patients and their families are supported is amazing.”
All visitors to the hospice are screened and staff wear masks and follow physical distancing guidelines set by the province.
Calvert said the hospice misses its volunteers who helped in the kitchen and with maintaining gardens.
“They are such an important part of the team and we very much look forward to welcoming them back.”
Despite the new rules, no one has turned down admission to Hankinson House, said David Wormald, president of the St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre, which runs the hospice, along with the adjacent long-term care residence..
There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in residents of either the hospice or at long-term residence.
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at St. Joseph’s on April 2 after a staff member at the long-term residence tested positive for the virus. That outbreak was declared over on April 12 but a second staff member tested positive April 23. But subsequent extensive testing has yielded no further positive results.
“We took a very proactive approach early on and our staff is absolutely dedicated to our hospice and long-term residents,” said Wormald. “They’re showing such commitment and living our mission of compassion, courage and care.”
He said St. Joseph’s considers it essential to protect its staff, residents and their family members.
“These are quite extraordinary times but we continue to be vigilant.”
Sunday was to be date for the 16th annual Hike for Hospice, which has been postponed due to the virus. The hospice has an annual operating budget of about $3 million, with about half funded by community donations through the St. Joseph’s Lifecare Foundation. Last year’s hike brought in just over $338,000.
The hike was also meant to mark the official retirement of Olga Consorti from the president and CEO role she has held with the foundation for the past 30 years. She has agreed to stay in the role until at least the end of June.