Nav-CARE: Hospice Halifax

Categories: Care, Category, Community Engagement, Featured, and People & Places.

Located in the historic port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hospice Halifax, like the land that is shaped by the waters surrounding it, has been shaped by the community within which it is situated. Established in 2001 and motivated by the values of community, inclusion, knowledge, and advancement, Hospice Halifax reflects a compassionate, caring community that is responsive to its history, and the current and future needs of those living in their neighbourhood, their region, and beyond. In addition to their 10-bed residence, Hospice Halifax has been extending their reach to better support clients and families living with declining health in the community through Nav-CARE (Navigation: Connecting, advocating, resourcing, engaging), a volunteer-based quality of life navigation program.

Bisi Akintola, is a physician, holds a Master’s in Public Health, and at Hospice Halifax is the volunteer coordinator leading the implementation of the Nav-CARE program. Through these roles, and participating in volunteer work in social and community care throughout her career, Bisi knows firsthand the impacts that volunteers can have on their communities. “One of the reasons I decided to be a doctor is because I love to help people who are in need. So, one of the rewarding things for me as a volunteer coordinator is being able to touch lives, improve people’s quality of life, and be able to get them to do what they love to do”.

Improving quality of life, re-engaging people with meaningful activity, touching people’s lives, and ultimately building relationship is at the heart of Bisi’s work and that of the 180 dedicated volunteers at Hospice Halifax. It may seem simple, but this is no small feat, as they work towards enabling patients/clients and families to live well with declining health to the end of life. For example, meaningful relationships are marked by volunteers’ ability to really get to know who the client is, leading to the creation of a safe space where people can share vulnerabilities and joy, feel less lonely, and feel more supported. Many of Hospice Halifax volunteers have been in their role for 10 plus years, enabling relationships to deepen and develop over a long period of time. This means that over the years, volunteers support clients through some of their best and worst moments. And, this in turn, as Bisi explains, builds trust and friendships, which are foundational to supporting people to access resources and supports that contribute positively to their quality of life. As many people can lose touch with their communities as a result of declining health, this can be life-changing, especially if the client is socially isolated or doesn’t have family support.

Even the small things that volunteers do can make a significant impact in someone’s life. Bisi tells the story of Alisa (not her real name) who has COPD and lives in an assisted living home. Alisa loves to go for walks outdoors but needs a fair bit of support as she is frail and requires someone to help with her oxygen tank. Without family, and care staff attending to the demands of a busy care home, Alisa is not able to get outside by herself. Through the support of Bisi and the volunteers, Alisa is provided with companionship on her walks. While a small gesture, ‘walking alongside’ is a poignant metaphor for volunteer work to accompany those in need along life’s journey through to its end. For Alisa, the joy this brought to her life was evident in the enormous smile across her face and expressions of gratitude to the team.

When thinking about this example and the impacts volunteers can make, Bisi also notes that “volunteering is all about giving back,” which is immensely powerful. The role can have profound impacts on volunteer’s own wellbeing. For the most part, the role is rewarding and satisfying, fueled by the knowledge gleaned from “the stories of people that we have helped and the people that we’ve stayed connected to.” It is in this knowing that brightens volunteers’ lives and keeps them going.

Through the busyness of life, we can sometimes forget how much the things we do matter to people. It is in the little conversations and gestures, and in our ability to listen to someone share their grief, frustrations, and joy that volunteers can play a huge role. Bisi puts this in perspective by reminding us that impacting someone’s life in such a meaningful and personal way is one of the greatest contributions we can make. As the author Seth Parker once said “You may not have saved a lot of money in your life, but if you have saved a lot of heartaches for other folks, you are pretty rich”. By these standards, the volunteers at Hospice Halifax are millionaires.

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