Salvation Army hospice volunteers’ personal touches eases pain of transition
Written by Michelle Hopkins
Used with permission from Richmond News
When Lesley Hicks much-loved father, 82-year-old Percy Hicks, became too ill to be cared for at home or in hospital, the family struggled with what to do.
Then the family — Lesley, mother Iris and brothers Paul, Eric and Tony Hicks — were referred to Richmond’s Salvation Army’s Rotary Hospice House.
At first, Lesley Hicks said they were all reluctant, thinking the hospice would be a depressing and dismal last home for a father they cherished.
Once they stepped through the doors, they soon changed their minds.
“From the minute we walked into the hospice, it felt like home,” said Lesley Hicks, whose dad died in May 2009. “His room was lovely, like a hotel room, and all the medical equipment was nicely hidden.”
She went on to add that they were moved by the added touches in the hospice, such as the large windows overlooking the gardens and the cozy homemade quilts on the beds, courtesy of local volunteers.
The hospice also encourages family members to bring any personal item that might make their loved ones’ final journey a little easier on everyone involved.
“My brothers brought their guitars and keyboards and had singsongs for dad, and we brought bird feeders for his balcony,” Hicks said. “Dad especially enjoyed looking at the grounds, which are so lovely … it really didn’t feel like a hospice.”
Hicks said she could go on and on about the special care given by the staff, or the meals which came on dishes you’d serve at home, or the way the staff made the entire family, and more importantly their father, feel like they were important and valued.
“It could have been a horrific time, but it wasn’t because dad was treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “I only hope that when it’s my time, that I will be treated the same way.
“We often go back to the hospice and visit the staff and my mom brings them baked goods.”
Another important benefit for the Hicks family was that a real bond and support system developed with the other family members.
“We were all there for the same reason and it helped to have people understand and relate to what you were going through … we seem to draw strength from each other,” Hicks said. “The staff loved my dad so much. He knew, of course, that he was dying, and they helped bring him peace during his final weeks of life.”
Those sentiments are echoed often by families, said Major Margaret Evans, the executive director of the local Salvation Army’s Rotary Hospice House.
“When most family members visit the hospice for the first time they are surprised by how it feels,” Evans said as she gave a tour of the cheery, sunlit facility. “We often hear them tell us that they love that it’s a real home-like environment rather than a hospital.”
There is a fireplace and comfy couches in the “living room”, an open chapel and a lovely eating area. Evans went on to say that of its 10 beds, eight are reserved for Richmondites and two for Vancouver residents.
“Family members and pets can come at any time of the day or night and each room has a flip-out bed so that family can stay overnight if they wish,” said Evans.
However, the piece de resistance and Evans pride and joy are the flowering gardens. “We hired gardeners to create this beautiful and serene space,” she said. “We purposely kept it a little rustic with weathered wooden benches and a gazebo.
“We had a resident once whose family opened up the doors of his room and wheeled him outside to enjoy the gardens.”
The hospice, which is supported by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Rotary Club of Richmond, opened its doors in February 2006. It is an end-of-life palliative care facility for those with less than three months to live.
“Since we opened our doors, we have cared for more than 300 people,” said Evans, adding priority is given to those the integrated palliative care team believes needs it most.
“Each application is accessed by a team of professionals, including doctors and social workers, and no one is turned back if they can’t afford it … we will absorb the costs,” she said. “Anybody is welcome.”
Its philosophy, added Evans, is to walk beside each resident to facilitate a gentle closure to life, with comfort, values and decisions respected and families supported. The 24/7 care team consists of a registered nurse, four LPN’s, a chaplain, care aids and cooking staff. We also have on call a support team which includes an occupational therapist, four physicians, a social worker and a dietician,” Evans said.
“We also have a wonderful group of trained volunteers who act as companions for our residents.
“When people cannot die at home or don’t have a support system in place, we are here.”
When asked if its ever a gloomy place, Evans said: “There are some tough days but it’s hard to explain the atmosphere here … it really is a happy and warm environment.”
To that end, the hospice does host concerts, as well as piano and children’s recitals, for its residents.
There’s an opportunity for all local residents to come and discover what a warm and inviting setting the hospice truly is. The Rotary Hospice House invites everyone to come and visit the home during its second annual Community Garden Party, on Sunday, June 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. on its beautifully manicured lawns at 6460 No. 4 Rd. There will be live music, strawberries and ice cream and a chance to meet the staff and walk around the grounds.
For more information, call 604-207-1212 or visit the website here.