SMITH'S COVE, N.S.- In March, Ken Flett of Bear River, Nova Scotia, flew to Mission, British Columbia, to spend his last few days with his dying father.
His father, 84, woke up and said he couldn’t do it anymore. His family brought him to a hospice and spent their last days together as a family.
“It was a place where families could connect. My week there with him was sad but just wonderful,” Flett said at a hospice information session on Sept. 18 in Smith’s Cove, Digby County. “Just to be there and sit by dad... I couldn’t imagine going to a hospital to be with someone when they’re dying.”
Flett knows first hand that a hospice environment is more comfortable for families when someone they love is dying. He remembers the doctors, nurses and volunteers who helped his father and their attitudes and willingness to provide the best care possible.
“It’s a place to die peacefully, with love. My dad died with love, what more could you ask for?”
It’s for families like Flett’s that a group is hoping to start a hospice in Digby County.
In September 2017, a group of directors formed the Atalanta Hospice Society to start discussing what it would take to get a hospice in the area.
The name Atalanta originated from the name of the ship commanded by Admiral Robert Digby who helped evacuate about 1,500 United Empire Loyalists from the United States arriving in Conway (renamed Digby in 1787) in early June of 1783.
The group hopes to bring a five-to-10 bed hospice home to the area, to help provide services for those in need of end of life care.
It was stated at the session that currently there aren’t any operational hospices in the province but two are in the works in Halifax and Kentville.
According to statistics from the 2016 Canadian Census 18 per cent of Canadians are 65 years and older. Thirty-one per cent of the people living in Digby County are 65 years and older, while Annapolis area ranks at 21 per cent.
In the last year since the group of directors formed they’ve been researching the do’s and don’ts of starting a hospice.
At first they thought they would just acquire a building and go from there.
However, after much research they realized it’s not that simple.
On average, a palliative care unit bed costs $630-$770 per day. A hospice bed costs a portion of that but it’s still expensive at roughly $460 a day.
With costs like this, in order to start a hospice in Digby County the group needs to do some major fundraising and financial planning.
At the hospice information session on Sept. 18, Ross McLean, a guest speaker from Ontario, came to talk about his experience starting a hospice in Muskoka, Ontario. Muskoka is a similar area to Digby. It has a large population of tourists that visit in the summer and the winter months it grows quieter. It’s a rural community in central Ontario, with a population of just over 60,000.
When McLean and a group in Ontario were trying to establish a hospice in Muskoka, they travelled around the province and visited other hospices in the area to do research on what they needed. They did numerous fundraisers and eventually had enough money raised to run the hospice for two years.
“Fundraising for a hospice is not just selling muffins. It’s a lot of money,” said McLean. “Building a hospice is one thing but having the money to fund it is another.”
The project took six years, but construction of a 10-bed hospice is underway and they hope to have the Muskoka facility’s doors open by June 2019.
McLean says a large factor in planning for a hospice is selecting the right people to work in the hospice. It takes a toll on a person to work with dying people every day. Nurses and physicians deal with this as part of their jobs. The people who volunteer to assist in hospice homes have usually witnessed a family member in a hospice or have been exposed to a positive hospice environment in one way or another.
“It’s all about those people,” McLean said. “I can tell you that those volunteers are our life line, they make a difference.”
David Cvet is one of the founding directors of the Atalanta Hospice Society.
He’s not sure how long this project will take to complete but they’re going to continue researching possibilities and hope to make a change in the future.
“Each month we learn more,” he said. “The next step is to continue doing research because right now we’re looking at the question, what is a solution?”
The group has taken into account the lack of physicians and care workers in Digby County. However, when looking at the Muskoka project, the construction of a hospice facility there has helped attract more physicians to that area.
“We’re in the business of learning about hospice and palliative care but we’re not experts and we won’t admit to being experts, but we’re learning a lot and as we go,” he said.
Cvet and the directors plan to visit some of the hospices in New Brunswick. They currently have three hospices in New Brunswick and a fourth is being built in Moncton.
The location of the future hospice in Digby is still unknown, but the group hopes to decide on a location or a building in the near future. Still, it’s all depending on the source and types of donations they receive.
The Atalanta Hospice Society needs community members to get involved and become interested in this project for it to move forward.
“We would love to have a full range of expertise on the board, so we can take this thing forward. The group of us now, we realize that we just don’t know everything, and we need more individuals to be engaged with different skill sets brought to the table,” said Cvet.
Some of the skills they need on the board are individuals with financial skills, organizing skills, legal skills, fundraising skills, self-starters who are passionate about hospice care and anyone else who wants to get involved.
“We’d love to make this happen, but we need everyone’s support,” added Cvet.