COLD LAKE – Patients in palliative care at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre have a “more positive, comfortable, and beautiful place” to call home in their final days.
On Monday, Feb. 24, the hospital opened the doors to two newly renovated palliative care rooms on the third floor.
“Dying isn’t something that most of us try to dwell on,” noted Cathi Garon, site manager of the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre. “We don’t like to face it, but we all face our own mortality at some point… When we think about dying, most of us want four things; we want it to be a quick and painless death with our dignity intact and our family beside us. That’s what most of us want, and palliative care is about helping people live out the rest of their days with as much physical, emotional, and spiritual support and comfort that we can offer them.”
Discussions around updating the unit initially began three years ago, with construction officially starting in January 2019 and wrapping up in December. The $30,000 renovations, which were funded by the Cold Lake Palliative Care Society and Hearts for Healthcare, aim to improve the experience for patients who utilize palliative care and their families.
Garon described the process as a “learning curve” for those involved.
“There were a lot of moving parts from closing down rooms, moving rooms, utilizing rooms that we need really badly, redecorating rooms to use in their place, and all of the different aspects of the demolition… It’s quite an undertaking,” she exclaimed, adding each unit had a complete face-lift.
“We had to tear everything out, paint everything, redecorate, put reinforcements in the walls, and it turned out really well.”
Each year, between 40 and 50 people utilize the palliative care unit in Cold Lake.
Both spaces are unique in their design; while one has a yellow, red, and orange palette, the other is decorated with greys, blues, and creams. Hanging from the walls are photos from Cold Lake-based photographer Brandon Born, which was a touch Garon really wanted included.
“I wanted the people who passed away to see things in the room that look familiar to them from Cold Lake. Now, if they’re not a Cold Lake residents of 40 years, I guess it’s just a nice picture. But, if they are then it’s fields and (landscapes) from Cold Lake.”
The rooms were carefully planned out with the patients and families in mind, featuring home furnishings such as couches and a desk. Each unit is outfitted with a television with video chat capabilities, allowing patients to connect with family members.
Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland noted the ability to have loved ones close even when they can’t be physically present struck a chord with him.
“I think the technology and being able to patch people in from afar; I know with myself, when my mom was dying, her family in New York City couldn’t come out but they were doing it over the phone. Now, to be able to patch people in through technology, I think it’s going to enhance those final moments,” he expressed.
Ensuring the needs of everyone in the room were met was an important aspect for Garon.
“When someone is passing away, we often find there’s more than one patient in the room because the grieving process is very stressful and sometimes those who take their turn sitting at the bedside for hours, or even days, also need support, empathy, and tender loving care.”
To make the project a reality, Garon reached out to the Cold Lake Palliative Care Society and Hearts for Healthcare to partner on the endeavour. Both organizations donated $15,000 each to make bring the total budget for the renovations to $30,000.
“For us, our objective has always been that we need to take care of our community members and part of that is making a room for them to be able to die,” explained Natasha Jovanovic, chair for the palliative care society. “That’s what we also do in the community, so I’m just very grateful for the relationship that we built with Hearts for Healthcare by getting together and doing this great venture.”
Kim Coosemans, president of Hearts for Healthcare, added, “I’m glad to see that this project has been completed. I believe that it will be very comforting to know that these improvements made will help those families and patients to find peace and comfort during these very difficult times in life.”
The community also stepped up to support the project, with local businesses covering a portion of their costs for supplies, décor, and services.
“It’s a really great example of how partnerships make things work… and it also comes down to the partnerships that we have with our staff who clean the floor, who provide the nursing services, who do the rehab, and also the community members who contribute and make the objectives of these community organizations come true,” said Greg Cummins, Alberta Health Services (AHS) chief officer of the northeast zone.
Cindy Harmata, senior operating officer for AHS for the north zone, said the spaces are unique compared to other palliative care units throughout the province.
“We don’t get this opportunity in many of our facilities. We just have to leave them fairly basic, and it’s so much better when the experience can be more welcoming and comfortable for people at such a tough time,” she stated.
Palliative care concentrates on reducing the severity of disease symptoms rather than trying to stop or reverse the progression of it or provide a cure. The goal is to prevent suffering and to improve the quality of life for patients facing serious and complex illnesses.
Dr. Joe Stander, associate zone medical director and community medical director in Cold Lake, explained palliative care is an essential service for a community, providing support for those who can no longer stay in their home.
“They just don’t have the physical ability, so they end up coming to the hospital and once we know there’s no return (to good health) is usually when we put them in a palliative care room. I think every physician has had several patients in there, and I’m sure the updated rooms will really make it easier for everybody involved."
While palliative care takes priority for the rooms, they’re also used for new mothers and their babies if they aren’t occupied. Along with offering room for family and friends to visit Garon said, it also adds a positive energy to the floor for the nursing staff.
With the rooms officially opened, Garon hopes the renovations bring people the comfort they deserve.