In a two-part series, Record reporter Scott Stanfield delves into the future of hospice beds in the Comox Valley.
In January, the Comox Valley Hospice Society (CVHS) received $125,000 from the BC Centre for Palliative Care, through the Province, for two new beds, which will bring the number of local hospice beds to six.
At present, there are four beds at Hospice in The Views at St. Joseph’s General Hospital.
“The two additional residential hospice beds are a welcome addition, and we look forward to working with the Comox Valley Hospice Society and Island Health on this initiative,” St. Joe’s president/CEO Jane Murphy said in a written statement.
Murphy may be jumping the gun, as, according to Island Health, no decision has been made about the location of the two beds.
Dr. Jonathan Reggler believes the community needs to ensure the beds wind up in the right place — “somewhere with no restriction on patients desiring a medically assisted death.”
Last year, Reggler resigned from the ethics committee at St. Joe’s because he did not agree with its policy regarding Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). As a Catholic health care provider, St. Joe’s does not provide MAiD — which was legalized last year.
The Courtenay doctor is not suggesting that hospices should be destinations for MAiD, but he feels that dying patients should not have to be moved to another facility because of a hospital policy.
“We are moving desperately sick people out of St. Joseph’s either to their home or to another hospital, solely to allow them to have a medically-assisted death,” Reggler said. “We have the opportunity here, as a community, of making sure that a new six-bed hospice needs to be in a non faith-based site.”
St. Joe’s notes that the BC health sector’s response to MAiD allows for individuals and faith-based hospitals to conscientiously object to its provision, while providing safe and timely transfers for patients for further assessment and discussion of care options, if required.
“We are committed to providing excellent care at all stages of life to our patients and residents, and to provide the best palliative and comfort care for those at the end of life,” a statement from St. Joe’s said. “In the health care sector, many hospitals and care sites are differentiated in the specialized services they offer; not all services are offered at all facilities. We will never abandon patients and residents and will, as always, provide them with the best possible care to relieve their suffering at our facilities at these critical times, while working with partners to ensure safe and effective transfers, as required.”
Dr. Barbara Fehlau, a palliative care specialist at St. Joe’s, feels it is important to support patients’ choices — bearing in mind that MAiD is a legal choice. She believes that patient transfers are unnecessary.
“The current hospice was created because it was attached to the hospital, which is a lot more convenient for most physicians. But with the new hospital, it changes things,” she said. “I think a non-denominational hospice would be preferable. Currently, the faith-based hospital that we’re working in has restrictions. I respect their choices as an institution, but I think it inflicts their opinions on other people who don’t share the same beliefs. Especially because it’s (MAiD) a legal option in our country now, I think it should not be withheld from people to have that option.”
Regardless of where hospice beds are located, the society will continue working with Island Health and other partners to offer “high quality compassionate hospice palliative care and supports to people in our community,” CVHS president Lynn Brandon said.
Palliative care is defined as specialized medical care for people with a life-limiting illness. Hospice palliative care is built on a philosophical foundation of neither prolonging life nor hastening death, says Christy Linder, CVHS program co-ordinator. As such, MAiD is not considered a hospice palliative care intervention.
“In an ideal world, every person with a life-limiting illness would receive optimal hospice palliative care in hopes no one would ever desire to hasten their own death,” Linder said. “Despite this, some people may experience suffering to an extent where they may wish to expedite the dying process.”
The society cannot speak to specific policies related to MAiD.
“We respect a person’s right to request MAiD as a resident of The Views,” 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.”
In Tuesday’s Record, a look at St. Joseph’s Hospital’s plan for a new state-of-the-art facility, and where hospice fits in.