The lack of hospice beds . . . our government’s shame and our future pain

Overcrowded hospitals are not always the best solution to dealing with end-of-life care.
Overcrowded hospitals are not always the best solution to dealing with end-of-life care.

A shocking statistic came to my attention the other day and left me wondering how we ever came to be in this situation. There are only a mere twenty (20) residential hospice beds in the Greater Toronto Area to serve nearly three million people. Those of us who have already struggled with trying to place family members in hospice facilities are familiar with this deplorable shortage of appropriate care facilities but others may not be and it’s time someone got the attention of our government leaders to rectify the situation.

With the heightened profile of the Right-To-Die-With-Dignity movement and the billions of dollars being spent in new hospital construction, how is it possible that this essential service has been overlooked. The cost of a basic hospital bed runs at around $1100.00 per day while a hospice bed is nearly one-third at $400.00 per day. Consequently, people who could and should be occupying more appropriate facilities are left to die in more expensive, less family friendly hospitals.
Hospice facilities offer a more home-like atmosphere for end-of-life care.
Hospice facilities offer a more comfortable home-like atmosphere.

For anyone who has visited family or a loved one in hospice care, the difference from hospitals is significant. Hospice facilities are operated predominantly by volunteers who oversee an atmosphere of warm, home-like care during residents’ final hours or days. The scarcity of hospice facilities means that I have personally only been in one. It was designed on one level like a cottage. It contained six large, quiet resident/patient rooms, a solarium, a family dining room, livingroom and open kitchen that continually smelled of warm cookies or muffins baked by volunteers. There was none of the hustle, noise or clinical atmosphere inherent in large medical hospitals. It was a place of peace and quiet, comfort and love. Parking on the hospice site was convenient and free because the facility was not in a high-priced downtown location but on the edge of town where real estate was affordable and away from the bustle of the city.

The residents’ rooms were cheerfully decorated to resemble a home environment with a door opening to an outside patio with trees, flowers and a bird feeder for those who were able to enjoy the scents and sounds of nature. We were able to wheel our friend’s bed into the solarium so we could all share burgers and fries for lunch one day. Another day, we wheeled his bed on to the outside porch where a student volunteer played a few sixties tunes she knew on her guitar while we all sang along. The patient rooms included comfortable LaZboy chairs suitable for family members to grab a much-needed nap during their vigil. The floors were hardwood, lighting soft and the atmosphere homey, infinitely more conducive to residents’ and visitors’ comfort than the institutional nature of hospitals. Nurses were constantly on duty to provide comfort and care while a doctor would oversee pain management. Along with friends who visited, we donated money and supplies (disposable plates and cups, paper towels, straws and other essentials) whenever we visited. Volunteerism and donations are an integral part of the hospice program.

boomerbannerBaby Boomers are already experiencing the frustration of long waiting lists, sometimes years of waiting to get parents into affordable assisted living, chronic care and hospice facilities, often without success. It’s shocking and deplorable that families are unable to find accommodation for those needing safe, comfortable long-term care and end-of-life hospice care. Before long, we too are going to require such care and there seems to be no plan in place to accommodate these needs. We must lobby our provincial and federal members of parliament and push organizations like CARP (Canadian Association of Retired People) to make geriatric care and end-of-life care a priority and check out candidates’ positions before voting. The argument that we can’t afford it simply makes no sense. At half the cost of a regular hospital bed, how can we afford to ignore the situation. With physician-assisted death becoming legal in Canada, the hospice option should be readily available and it’s not. Our health care providers are frustrated. Families and friends of those needing care are frustrated. Baby Boomers have a voice and it’s time to make ourselves heard.

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