In the early Eighties a small contingent of eager local nurses independently read about the works of hospice pioneers. Casual conversations of shared readings triggered questions about what could be done in the Alberni Valley for folks who were dying. How did their needs differ from those patients receiving acute care?
Concurrently, the father of a ward nurse at West Coast General Hospital was dying of melanoma. Taking him between home and hospital several times, the nurse along with a friend and colleague ensured that his care more closely matched that of the hospice philosophy. They made sure his emotional and social, as well as his physical needs, were met. Comfort was the focus. While in the hospital, he could have any number of visitors any time he wanted and have pain relief when he needed it. He was taken for walks and sat out under the trees, savoring soft breezes on his face. Quality rather than quantity of life was paramount. The nurses wondered, “Shouldn’t every dying patient in Port Alberni have this opportunity?”
A few nurses started traveling to Vancouver and Victoria to conferences on the hospice philosophy.
Nurse Anne Gray, head nurse Delores Dufour, retired nurse Dorothy Findlay, home support supervisor Mary Booker and practical nurse Lillian Robinson began educating their colleagues. Support of an enlightened WCGH administrator, Malcolm Telford, quickened the process. Organizational meetings soon gathered the interest and energy to consider forming a society.
Always a leader, Victoria General Hospital was already operating a palliative care ward. Nancy Reeves, running its hospice program, conducted workshops for the public of the Alberni community. Shared knowledge begets shared goals. Shared goals beget action!
On October 8, 1982, the charter of the Alberni Valley Hospice Society was signed.
Eventually, a palliative care room was set up in the hospital under the umbrella of the hospice care philosophy. Comfort was the touchstone of care: medication as needed and family and friends welcome twenty-four hours a day.
The homey family room next door to the palliative care room sported comfortable chairs, a couch, kitchen facilities and appealing artwork, inviting visitors to stay and relax.
In the palliative care room, a large portable lounge chair doubled as a bed so a family member could stay overnight.
A non-denominational chaplain was available for requested spiritual care for both patients and families. Volunteers, trained by Dorothy Findlay, supported the program in the hospital and for those dying at home.
Modest…maybe by today’s standard but light years ahead of where care had been for the dying in the previous decades.
Unlike many communities in Canada that have yet to acquire the service of hospice palliative care, thanks to a few fearless, passionate nurses, it has been thriving in the Alberni Valley for decades.