St. Joseph’s Hospice continues to bring dignity and grace to those who need it most

hospice wallCould it be that the measure of a society is how we treat those who are most vulnerable?

Certainly many have been quoted as saying as much, but it's one local organization in particular, St. Joseph's Hospice of Sarnia-Lambton, with its litany of services (all delivered free of charge to the community), that's making a daily investment in the lives of those who are nearing their last days on this planet.

It's more than a mission. Or is it?

For the people who serve as volunteers and for a small staff of committed, passionate professionals, St. Joseph's Hospice can be both heart wrenching and heart warming.

But speak to some of them and you'll discover that it's worth every moment spent.

And for a society that, as Mahatma Ghandi once said "is measured by how it treats its weakest members," the Hospice is one of those places that brings us all closer, even if we don't have a personal connection.

Mike Hanki is one, however, whose link to Hospice is personal indeed.

Now chair of the board, Hanki first became involved in the organization when his own father died in the palliative care wing of the former St. Joseph's Hospital (now part of Bluewater Health). He was also one of several members of the community that made a passionate (and winning) case for continuing the service.

And yet here he is, having successfully spearheaded a major capital fundraising project for this separate facility.

"We need both places," says Hanki, referring to the Bluewater Health palliative care's six beds as well as the 10 at Hospice.

The distinction is the level of care that's required. And, of course, the fact that patients can come and go from palliative care, depending on a number of factors, notably pain control. They also receive acute medical assistance, something not available through Hospice.

Notably, one of the on-site professionals who maintains his office at St. Joseph's Hospice is Dr. Glen Maddison, a pain management specialist known for his high level of compassionate care toward those facing death.

Services such as those provided by Dr. Maddison are covered through the Community Care Access Centre.

Yet there are additional needs, even for an organization whose staff and volunteers give of themselves daily. Because it's the right thing to do.

Of course, top of the list is the never-ending need for the money needed to bridge a significant gap—46% of the organization's $1.1 million budget—that isn't funded through the health care system (funding is basically for nursing costs only).

Again, given the fact that all services provided by St. Joseph Hospice are without charge, a look around the facility is evidence of the enormity of the financial challenges faced. Everything from the food in the kitchen, power, heat, sheets and cleaning supplies is unfunded—at least from the government health care standpoint.

Which is where people like Maria Muscedere (pictured with Mike Hanki) comes in.

As fund development manager, Muscedere, who joined the organization just over a year ago, having worked in a similar role at the Bluewater Health Foundation, is constantly "telling the story" of Hospice, one that includes not only the daily care of residents whose average time here is about 18 days, but bereavement and grief services to those who have lost loved ones.

And there's the children as well, young ones who may be facing death for the first time and desperately need to deal with the confusion, the anger, the hole that's left when a grandparent or even a mom or dad is no longer there to hug or celebrate a birthday.

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Those interactions, too, are an integral part of what makes Hospice such a special place. And not just the building on Christina Street, the former "My Mother's House" restaurant and after that the Discovery Museum that was donated by former Mayor and philanthropist Ron Gordon to St. Joseph's Hospice.

Indeed, Caring Hearts program coordinator Connie Manning spends much of her time in high schools, notably in cases where suicide has had an impact, speaking to groups as large as 27 students and, perhaps just as importantly, bringing listening ears and a heart of compassion with her.

The grief and bereavement services, both Hanki and Muscedere emphasize, are open to anyone in the community with a need, not just those who have had loved ones in hospice care.

The list of services to the community also includes a so-called "day hospice" program for people who are terminally ill but who don't necessarily need the full-time support. "They can come here, have lunch, do crafts and art projects," notes Muscedere, who adds: "It's also a respite for caregivers."

Hanki acknowledges that while many in the community are aware of the services provided through St. Joseph's Hospice Sarnia Lambton, there are still those who have not yet discovered its presence.

"We're continually hearing of people who are surprised by what we offer here," he says.

Need may, at least in some cases, be the motivation that leads to the discovery.

"When you're in need, those are the times when you're going to seek out our programs."

The creation of the St. Joseph's Hospice facility began with the divestiture of the Sisters of St. Joseph facility that ultimately blended into what is now Bluewater Health's Sarnia facility.

Even though the Sisters were no longer directly involved in the provision of health care in the city, their legacy remains in the name they've lent to St. Joseph's Hospice. At the same time, many additional sponsors having since come forward to make hospice services in the community a reality.

And the story continues, with committed staff as well as an active and ever-changing cadre of volunteers, many of them serving on a daily basis to meet the needs of those who are quietly, comfortably, and with dignity, finding their way to their next home.

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