Nick Lees: Edmonton hospice centre hopes to become benchmark for end-of-life care

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Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson might be credited with helping found the recently opened $15-million Roozen Family Hospice Centre, designed for those nearing the end of life.

“It was 28 years ago I walked into the cinema before Remains of the Day began and Dr. Helen Hays and I spotted one another,” says Marion Boyd.

“We were old friends and I told her I had just left my nursing job as the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s ICU director of patient care and she said, ‘Good, you can help me create a hospice.”

Dr. Hays, credited with founding many of Edmonton’s palliative care programs, discussed with Boyd the forming of a Pilgrims Hospice Society.

“We registered our Edmonton Hospice Society in 1994 and worked in my basement until we found a place to help give people the care and support they needed,” says Boyd. “But we always had much bigger plans.”

The duo’s dream came true this February when the Roozen Family Hospice Centre opened. This last week all 12 suites were filled for the first time. A waiting list is now inevitable.

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“Our hospice, built without government help, is a warm and family-friendly end-of-life residence for individuals in the final stages of life who do not require acute medical care,” says Boyd.

‘No one should die alone’

The not-for-profit Pilgrims Hospice Society expanded day-programs significantly and then only three years ago began planning a major residence.

Senior financial executive Garnet Clark became board chair and Nova Hotel president Richard Wong, appointed to lead fundraising, proclaimed it would be for a residential hospice.

Says Wong: “My inspiration came when I was talking by telephone to my mother in Vancouver and she stopped speaking. She had passed away. No one should die alone was my immediate thought.”

A plan launched in 1993 to build a Pilgrims Hospice in Edmonton took a major leap forward with a ground-breaking ceremony in August, 2019. The 12-suite building opened in February and is now full and has a waiting list.
A plan launched in 1993 to build a Pilgrims Hospice in Edmonton took a major leap forward with a ground-breaking ceremony in August, 2019. The 12-suite building opened in February and is now full and has a waiting list. Pilgrims Hospice Society

Another breakthrough in 2017 was when Boyd’s daughter Susan met Monica Robson at a mutual friend’s dinner party and Susan discovered Robson had arrived from Sarnia, Ont. where she had served as executive director of a hospice.

“Monica was looking for a similar job here,” says Marion Boyd. “She joined our team and worked closely with local architect Rick Arndt, who volunteered his time as project director.”

A former convent in Crestwood, which hospice supporters had bought in 2000 for $400,000, was torn down and after three years of fundraising drives and 16 months of construction, the hospice became a reality and named the Roozen Family Hospice Centre.

Much-loved Father Mike McCaffery, who died in January this year with COVID-19 complications, had introduced Edmonton businessman Harold Roozen to the hospice champions.

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Roozen donated $4.5 million to the Hospice, while Cathy Allard Roozen donated another $2.5 million. Other donors included Alex Osten and Buddy Victor, who gave $1 million, while a similar sum came from a Val Simmonds bequest. Edmonton Civic Employees donated $500,000, as did the Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group.

Our outreach programs help people in their homes and are very much in demand.

Marion Boyd

On board, Monica Robson launched a capital campaign and formed a steering committee to move plans forward.

Under her direction, everything unfolded smoothly, with programs running well when the three-floored, 30,000-sq-ft. Hospice opened to offer individual personal care.

“Our services support patients from the diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, through the illness journey to grief support for families and loved-ones,” says Robson.

“Grief support often begins prior to the death of a loved one and counsellors meet with families and loved ones on resident admission.”

Friendly chef Pierre Plamondon also meets residents on admission and gathers information on favourite meals and special requests to ensure they can enjoy the meals provided.

Always upbeat Marion Boyd (left) and Dr. Helen Hays celebrate at a fundraiser while planning to build a $15-million Pilgrims Hospice residence to care for patients nearing their end of life. (Supplied photo)
Always upbeat Marion Boyd (left) and Dr. Helen Hays celebrate at a fundraiser while planning to build a $15-million Pilgrims Hospice residence to care for patients nearing their end of life. (Supplied photo)

The 12 private suites on the main floor feature individual temperature control; a concealed overhead lift system; a mini-fridge; TV; fireplace; pull-out sofa and private specialized “cuddle beds” which can be enlarged to accommodate a visiting loved one.

Also available on the floor are a welcoming great room; two spa rooms with therapeutic tubs; a family room and quiet spaces.

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“On the lower level are counselling space for grieving children and teens; day wellness program space and massage therapy facilities for residents and caregivers,” says Robson.

On the upper floor are grief counselling rooms, an open kitchen and dining area for residents and families and a space for family counselling.

‘Very much in demand’

Marion Boyd hopes the Hospice will become a benchmark for end-of-life care.

“While there are similar free-standing hospices in Red Deer, Okotoks and two in Calgary, we would like to see many more such hospices created throughout Alberta,” she says.

“Our outreach programs help people in their homes and are very much in demand. They are just as important as those offered at a hospice. Monica Robson and medical director Dr. Dinesh Witharana plan to expand these services.”

Currently functioning as an independent hospice facility, operations are funded through the generosity of donors and supporters.

“All programs and services are provided at no cost, eliminating an already difficult time in the lives of our patients and their families,” says Robson.

“Our annual operating budget is $3.5 million and in future we hope to become contract service providers with Alberta Health Services.”

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