Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
News that the South Shore is getting a new palliative care unit, a first for Lunenburg and Queens County, has been well received.
On June 23, Premier Iain Rankin was in Lunenburg to announce the Nova Scotia government would be investing $1 million annually for a five-room dedicated palliative care unit at Fishermen's Memorial Hospital (FMH) in Lunenburg, which is expected to open this fall.
Existing rooms in the current veterans' wing at the hospital will be updated and changed into more home-like environments. There will also be a family room made available. Government funding will cover one-time costs for equipment and furnishings. The money will also cover annual physician coverage and additional staffing needs.
"Everyone deserves respectful, integrated palliative care at the end of life," said Rankin in a media release. "These dedicated palliative care rooms and services will provide comfort and quality care to patients and families on the South Shore, and ensure the right supports are in place - medically, physically and emotionally."
The new unit at Fishermen's Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg will provide team-based palliative care, including end-of-life care, symptom management and support for patients and their families. It will be open to residents of Queens and Lunenburg counties.
"I'm absolutely thrilled. It's a good day," said Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland in a phone interview. Masland has been a strong advocate for dedicated palliative care beds for several years and it was an announcement she has been waiting for.
"It's been too long and sadly that's the disappointing factor in all of this."
She shared the experience of going through the death of her grandmother who spent many of her last days on a gurney in a busy ER room. From then on, Masland has been passionate about fighting for dedicated, private rooms for people during their end-of-life phase.
Masland lauded the volunteers at the South Shore Hospice Palliative Care Society for their hard work and dedication in bringing further attention to the issue.
Trudy Johnson, chair of the South Shore Hospice Palliative Care Society, was on hand for the announcement as well.
"We are very pleased. To have space for families at the end-of-life with their loved ones is very needed," she said in a phone interview.
With no dedicated beds or space for people at the end-of-life, many people are choosing to live out their last days at home. In 2020, 30 per cent chose that option, compared to 22 per cent in 2019, Johnson reported previously.
Referrals to the South Shore Palliative Care Specialist team have grown from 184 in 2012 to 311 in 2020, cited Johnson previously.
Incorporated in July 2019, the society is a volunteer organization designed to create awareness of and support for palliative care in Queens and Lunenburg Counties.
The society helps support professional palliative staff by increasing awareness of palliative care and helping to provide financial support for those who need it. Volunteers will continue to work towards getting a dedicated hospice in the area.
Lunenburg MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft said the announcement is a long-time coming.
"I'm so excited. I've been working on this for seven years and to see it actually coming in place is just amazing," Lohnes-Croft commented in a phone interview. "It's so important. We live well and we should die well. Right now we are not dying well; we're dying wherever. Some are dying in hallways or in a room with four beds with a curtain pulled."
She noted that palliative care is not only for those at their end-of-life stage. It could be used for someone that needs help with medications that they may be taking wrong, or someone that needs more supervision during an adjustment period or while recovering from surgery for example.
"It will be very people-centred and we need that," said Lohnes-Croft.
She noted that Mahone Bay and Lunenburg have the oldest population per capita and Lunenburg County is the oldest in Nova Scotia.
Palliative care patients from the South Shore who require hospitalization are currently admitted to available acute care beds at Fishermen's Memorial Hospital, South Shore Regional or Queen's General Hospital.
Lohnes-Croft said that Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, is also "taking a look at some of the other community hospitals and how they can purpose them."