Impossible is Nothing

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The basic principle of a Hospice is to cater for the needs of patients at all levels of living and to optimise their quality of life. The Opening Doors Programme, (ODP), running at Mercy Hospice Auckland (MHA) has made a significant difference to palliative care patients, improving both their sense of worth and their quality of life.

At Mercy Hospice we have over 290 patients on our books. We are situated in Ponsonby, central Auckland, where we have a 13 Bed inpatient unit, and the facility to run a day programme for patients living in the community.

Patients have the opportunity to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, meet new people in beautiful surrounds and have a range of complementary therapies available to them. Volunteers are relied on for all aspects of the programme, providing the many therapies available to patients including hairdressing, nail and foot therapy, massage, music and art. The introduction of a Ukulele group has been hugely successful, creating a sense of belonging and of community, with staff, volunteers and patients alike all taking part and enjoying the ambiance. This combination of factors enables patients to look beyond the confines of their illness and, as Andrew Moore stated, it frequently leads to a search for deeper meaning and an addressing of spiritual issues.

At Opening Doors (OD), it became apparent that patients had an overwhelming desire to share their lives and their profound concerns about their dying. The Team at OD endeavoured to cater for this “ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM”. What has developed over time, is the Self Care and Education Programme. In a safe environment, where confidentiality and respect are paramount, skilled facilitators tackle the tough issues of: Death and Dying, Grief and Loss, Advanced Care Planning, and most importantly how patients might approach their families to talk about their impending death. The response has been very significant and has led to a formal evaluation of the relevancies and benefits of this programme. Patients were interviewed and recorded and a survey was formulated. Thirty patients took part in the survey and the findings were:

  • 100% of the patients completing the survey were comfortable with the programme
  • patients made suggestions of how to enhance and improve the programme
  • patients felt valued and respected having been a part of the evaluation process
  • all of patients surveyed found it helpful to share how they felt in a group with others who were in similar circumstances.

Denis, one of the patients who took part in the survey commented:

“The connection with others in similar circumstances makes you feel you are not alone. People here understand and don’t want to fix it, they just accept you as you are. We understand each other and connect at a deeper level.”

The ODP is essentially in harmony with the MHA philosophy, LIVING EVERY MOMENT. This is portrayed especially well in two other significant elements in the make-up of the programme. The first is a very big event staged each year at Hampton Downs Raceway, called Race For Life. This extraordinary event has been running for six years now. The most outstanding feature might be almost looked upon as a mathematical Formula:


Dame Cecily Saunders (1978) stated:

“Hospice is indeed a place of meeting, physical and spiritual, doing and accepting, giving and receiving, all have to be brought together. The dying need the community, its help and fellowship. The community needs the dying, to think about eternal issues and to make it listen.” How true!!

It is both stirring and heart-warming when 50 patients merge on the facility at Hampton Downs Raceway to be given a choice to ride in racing cars, a helicopter, trucks, luxury cars and on a Harley Davidson Motorbike. All is provided freely by the local community who have remained faithful to this event since its inception. A committee of dedicated enthusiasts work on the organisation of the day for months prior. Volunteers on the day offer all services to patients for free. They find the day astounding, and then ASK if they can return the following year!! Needless to say the patients have the time of their lives!!

The second of the two significant elements of the ODP is the Wish-list. This provides the avenue by which patients are encouraged to LIVE EVERY MOMENT. As with Race For Life, it is an honour to be privy to the generosity of our community. The OD Team is in awe of the kindness, generosity and heart-warming hospitality of so many businesses, big or small, throughout New Zealand. People want to help out and make a difference, knowing that they themselves could well be among the patients in the future.

As a facilitator, it is crucial not to be a gatekeeper. Tenacity is an indispensable characteristic as is the ability to tell a good story that will reach the hearts of the community. The Sky is the Limit. Impossible is Nothing!! Mix all that with an intrinsic belief and faith in humanity and you have a wonderful recipe for success.


The Opening Doors Programme is making a huge difference to the quality of lives of our patients. To achieve this excellence, such a programme needs to be driven by passion, a passion shared by the Hospice Trust Board and shown by their endorsement of paid positions. To maintain a team of dedicated, dynamic and committed personnel, staff need to feel valued. MHA have witnessed many magical moments by investing in a programme that meets the needs of its patients and optimizes their quality of life.


Andrew Moore: Space, Place and HOME: Lived experiences in Day Hospice, A thesis submitted for the degree of DPhil at the University of Central Lancashire 2010.

Dame Cicely Saunders: The Management of Terminal Disease, 1st Edition ( 1978).

Viv James is the Coordinator of the Day Stay Programme, Opening Doors at Mercy Hospice Auckland. Auckland New Zealand.

Viv can be contacted at:

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