Home Hospice North Lanark (HHNL) is a hospice “without walls” located in Almonte, Ontario and operated primarily by visiting volunteers, two program coordinators and a board of 12 people who provide support to individuals diagnosed with a life-altering diagnosis – support also offered to their families and caregivers. Currently, HHNL supports a variety of communities including Almonte, Carleton Place, Pakenham, Clayton, Blakeney, and Appleton and provides face-to-face support at three satellite offices, as well as home-based services to people living in the community in their own homes, long-term care facilities, hospitals, retirement residents, and anywhere else the clients may call home. Through these efforts, HHNL is able to reach approximately 8,000 individuals in a variety of communities. HHNL is a great example of how a small group of dedicated people can have a profound impact on their community by providing unique, inventive and diverse services. Jan Watson, the chair of the HHNL board, sat down with us to discuss some of their successes and hopes for the future as HHNL celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
An important component to the success of the support that HHNL offers has been partnerships with other community organizations. This is evident in their work with the Lanark Leeds Grenville County Paramedicine Program (LLGCPP). HHNL program coordinators give referrals to the LGCPP team, who then come into the homes of their clients and conduct various health assessments and organize support from providers such as occupational therapists. These services are essential as they help to reduce potentially avoidable emergency department visits. The importance of partnership is also evident in HHNL’s volunteer training opportunities. HHNL volunteers and staff are provided with training through programs with Nav-CARE, Hospice Palliative Care Ontario, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Champlain Palliative Care Program. These training opportunities cover a variety of topics such as how best to support the person they are caring for with practical tasks like Advanced Care Planning, lifts and transfers, mouth and wound care, and recognizing end-of-life signs. These partnerships are an innovative way to improve access to professional services for many.
While practical support is important, HHNL also offers innovative and creative social support that are incredibly impactful. For example, The Comfort Crew knitting group, which is a community program, shows that widespread impacts can be made from a unique idea and shared community involvement. In just one year, 43 women have gathered together to knit over 100 items such as shawls, blankets and socks that have been donated to various long term care homes in the area – all made with donated wool from community members. Jan shared that many of these women have experienced similar challenges over the years, such as the loss of their spouse, and have found connection through this program. As Jan said, “They sit there and knit and they chat…put aside the donated items, but it has served a purpose… [people] have made friends and have something in common with other people”.
The HHNL sponsors sections in three local libraries that provide books on palliative and end-of-life care topics. These books focus on both positive and negative aspects and discuss topics such as Advanced Care Planning, cancer, healthy eating, exercising, how to discuss a diagnosis, caregiver support, medication and more. The success of these sections led to the development of the Book of the Month Club in which a few board members read a book and provide a review to the group with the intention of providing comfort and reassurance about the content of books that discuss challenging topics.
Another notable program is the Naismith Men’s Shed, which is a group of retired men who get together, have coffee and do woodwork. These men create many works of art, including wooden birds that fit in the palm of your hand, and are intended to provide a sense of comfort by being a reminder of support. The HHNL gives these birds to individuals who attend their grief and bereavement support groups and who take part in training as volunteers as well as all clients in their care. Recently, Jan ran into one of these individuals who highlighted how important this wooden bird has been to her: “You know that bird you gave me when I came to that Practical Caregiver training? Well, I have it in my purse, and I carry it around with me everywhere”. Jan also highlighted the role this program has been able to play in breaking down stigma and barriers that inhibit men from reaching out for support.
While reflecting on the incredible work HHNL has done over the past 10 years, Jan noted a few of their most significant accomplishments. The HHNL is well known in the community as a group that can offer advice, information and support, and provide unique and diverse support to those who are palliative and at end-of-life, as well as those who just want companionship.
She also highlighted their ability to offer respite services, which are often limited but in high demand. Despite these major successes, the HHNL has experienced some challenges. Limited funding has impacted their ability to hire staff and expand their provision of services. 100% of HHNL funds are obtained through fundraising efforts and donations such as their annual tree campaign, online auction, and Hike for Hospice. Other funds are obtained through donations from organizations such as the OutCare Foundation. While HHNL has encountered such generosity from their community through these efforts, they hopefor increased and consistent funding in the years to come. This would allow HHNL to continue to expand their profound impacts on the community. It is undeniable that in their 10 years, HHNL has persevered, been resourceful, and improved hospice care in North Lanark and the surrounding communities contributing to the improved well-being of many. We look forward to seeing what the next 10-years have in store!