By the Nav-CARE team
Running through the city of Peterborough, Ontario is the swift and yet surprisingly calm Otonabee River. Derived from the Ojibwe language of the Indigenous peoples, the river’s name means the river that beats like a heart. In a similar way, Hospice Peterborough has its own heartbeat, deriving life from its many clients, staff, and volunteers.
Hospice Peterborough has been serving the community since 1988, beginning as community hospice with outreach for palliative clients and grief & bereavement services. In 2019 it opened 10 hospice beds and in the past year, Hospice Peterborough provided over 30 000 interactions between clients and staff/volunteers, supported 170 clients at end-of-life in residence, and served 41% more clients than the past 4 years. This remarkable commitment to the community, is reflected in the 2021 Hospice Palliative Care Ontario accreditation report, which commented that Hospice Peterborough performed “exceptionally well” with a “beautiful (and) effective” facility and that “staff/volunteers are genuinely happy and proud to be a part of Hospice Peterborough.”
Carolyn Parkes, the Volunteer Service Lead, describes the integrated and holistic nature of care available through Hospice Peterborough “With the volunteers providing respite support, and the nurse navigators linked in with the palliative care doctors and supportive care counsellors, we are really able to do the whole-person care that palliative care is based on and then being able to extend that support to grief and bereavement after death.”
Hospice Peterborough has recently onboarded Nav-CARE (Navigation – Connecting, Advocating, Resourcing, and Engaging), a volunteer-based program that seeks to improve the quality of life of persons living with declining health using a palliative approach to care. Natalie Warner, the Manager of Community Programs explains that Nav-CARE “allows us to go back to the roots” of traditional hospice activities to support people from diagnosis through to bereavement. In addition, Carolyn reflects that the Nav-Care program augments the Hospice’s ability to provide continuity of care. “We have a small number but people who wouldn’t have necessarily been appropriate for the palliative care community team due to their prognosis or the chronic nature of their illness. But now with the Nav-CARE program, they start as a Nav-CARE client and then move under the palliative care team umbrella as their needs change.”
Since volunteers are deeply integrated in every service provided, they form an indispensable backbone of the community, with many of them remaining at the Hospice for decades. While the COVID-19 pandemic placed a two-year hiatus on volunteer services, staff were heartened to see an enthusiastic return of volunteers. These volunteers participate in a range of activities, such as running the reception desk, doing shifts in the residence, engaging in the support groups, and assisting in the kitchen, and gardening.
Carolyn notes that even though clients “may start off a little apprehensive, they soon realize the magic of the volunteer just wanting to be present for them to make the journey a little easier. It’s like ‘Wow, okay. I can’t believe you want to do this.’ Our volunteers are just really amazing people.”
A volunteer at Hospice Peterborough reflected on the honour and reward of walking alongside those in palliative and end-of-life care. “Sitting with patients who are near the end of life, I sometimes think that that is the spiritual piece, and for me, it’s rewarding to know I shared that little piece. You never know who you are going to make a connection with or who really needs to talk that day. And that, for me, is amazing.”
Each participant of the caring relationship, the staff members, the volunteers, and the clients, contributes to Hospice Peterborough: a community characterized by compassion, respect, and autonomy.