Hospice beds: One possible solution

The future of hospice in the Comox Valley is been a hot-button issue.

Part three of a series written by Record reporter Scott Stanfield, concerning the future of hospice beds in the Comox Valley.

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The future of hospice in the Comox Valley has been a hot-button issue, particularly since the announcement of government funding for two additional hospice beds in the community.

Currently, there are four hospice beds at The Views, located in Comox, at St. Joseph General Hospital.

A growing faction of the community is expressing concern with hospice beds being situated in a faith-based institution, such as St. Joseph’s, which does not comply with Medical Assistance in Dying.

MAiD received royal assent on June 17, 2016, making it law in Canada (Bill C-14). However, as a Catholic health care provider, St. Joe’s refuses to recognize the law.

If someone at The Views requests MAiD, they are forced to leave hospice, and have the procedure conducted elsewhere; either in their homes, or in a neighboring hospice facility. The closest hospice available is in Parksville — nearly one hour away.

There is a possible solution presenting itself to Island Health.

Besides funding for two new hospice beds, Island Health last year issued a Request for Proposals seeking up to 70 new, replacement care beds for seniors and others needing residential care in the Valley. The RFP seeks submissions from proponents to own and operate the beds, which will provide 24/7 support for people with complex care needs. Island Health will provide annual operating funds through a service agreement with the successful proponent. The RFP closed in December. Island Health expects a contract to be awarded in April, construction to begin in summer, and the beds to open in summer 2019.

Though Island Health can’t disclose information on the number of, or details of submissions during an RFP process, Dr. Jonathan Reggler – a Courtenay doctor and supporter of MAiD – believes proposals may have come forward that would include a hospice, in which case he feels the community should be trying to influence the Health Ministry and Island Health to ensure it does not end up being constructed at St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

“It will have to be co-located with another unit,” said Reggler. “The ministry has, for economic reasons, said it can’t be free-standing.”

The new hospital under construction in Courtenay is not an option, Island Health said.

Reggler said at least one submission other than St. Joe’s includes a hospice with a new long-term care facility.

“Let’s do it smart now,” he said. “Let’s approve a long-term care facility with a hospice that isn’t faith-based, and therefore doesn’t restrict the right of terminally-ill Canadians to have a medically-assisted death.”

St. Joseph’s remains diligent with its efforts to tend to all its patients’ needs in the best way possible, in accordance with the policies of the diocese.

“We respect a person’s right to request MAiD as a resident of The Views,” a spokesperson for St. Joe’s said in a statement. “Requests for MAiD are taken extremely seriously and we work closely with the patient to discuss and plan his or her care needs. We work closely in collaboration with our Health Authority to determine the best process for support, care and transfer, as needed, of patients who have made the decision to have MAiD.”

Reggler surmises that St. Joe’s, in fact, might be pleased to lose the hospice. If they get it, the issue of MAiD will be a “running sore” for the next 30 years.

“Because every time a patient is forced to move, there’s going to be a rumpus amongst the staff. It’s desperately unpopular in St Joseph’s that it has a prohibition on medically assisted dying.”

Reggler said most of the St. Joe’s nursing staff who have spoken to him are unhappy about the prohibition, and added that 87 per cent of B.C. residents support MAiD. Moreover, 80 per cent of Canadian Catholics support it. According to the last census, 12 per cent of the Comox Valley population is Catholic.

“All those numbers push us to saying it would be foolish and wrong and not in the best interests of the Comox Valley to place a brand new hospice on a faith-based site,” he said.

Reggler encourages the public to write to newspapers and their MLA, and to press candidates in the upcoming provincial election on their stance as to where a new hospice should be built.

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Sidebar: Last few days ‘tough’ for hospice client

George Kirkwood’s wife recently passed away at The Views. She was 82. Her last few days were tough because she wanted a medically assisted death — which is not permitted at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“The last few days of her life were miserable. That was because of the policies of the hospital,” the Comox resident said.

“One of the things we talked about (with doctors) was the idea of going home to die. That was a tough one. My wife decided that she couldn’t handle the going home. Decided to tough it out at the hospice.”

Though his wife had signed up for the MAiD program, she did not enjoy travelling to and from home or hospital by ambulance.

“She found it under-secure,” Kirkwood said. “She said the hospice could look after her better than I could at home, and she was absolutely right. She wanted to try and make everybody as happy as she could.”

Kirkwood added: “We all appreciate the fact that the Catholic hospital was founded by people who cared, who wanted to do things for the Valley. They did a wonderful job, and it will never be forgotten. But you can’t live in the past, and I think this is what they’re doing.”

Comox Valley Record