Supportive Care Q&A

Evergreen Hospice provides supportive care to people of all ages in Markham and Whitchurch-Stouffville who are dealing with a life-threatening illness.

I spoke recently with Jan Pearce, Executive Director of Evergreen Hospice and the Supportive Care Coordinator for Evergreen to learn more about supportive care.

Question – What kind of supportive care does Evergreen offer for those clients dealing with a life-threatening illness?

The focus of Evergreen’s service is on providing support and/or palliative care to all clients and their families during diagnosis, treatment and on to the end of life. We arrange for Evergreen Hospice Client Volunteers to offer support to both client and family; we act as advocates for the client and provide assistance in navigating the maze of health care services and help with referrals to Central LHIN (formerly CCAC), long-term care facilities and other community services. The most important thing that we offer is a caring person who listens. The emphasis is always on the quality of life.

Question – What is the greatest challenge right now for Evergreen?

Our greatest challenge is increasing community awareness of our services. It is a challenge to get our message to all the referring agencies (the discharge planners at the hospitals, the chemotherapy clinics, faith communities, LHIN, etc.) Providing information at the time of diagnosis would help us make connections earlier and provide more support. Often we get referrals too late for us to be of help to either the client or his or her family. Many times, of course, people who could greatly benefit from our services are not referred because of the lack of awareness of what we do.

Question – Who might specifically be a client?

We have clients who are dealing with cancer, with chemotherapy treatments, who have ALS, who are in late stages of MS, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease and/or kidney disease. Our clients represent the diverse nature of the Markham community.

Question – How does a person become a client of Evergreen?

Individuals and families may refer themselves. Discharge planners at hospitals, the Central LHIN (formerly CCAC), doctors, friends, volunteers, faith communities, etc, also make referrals.

The Supportive Care Coordinator for Evergreen then calls the family to introduce herself, tells them about the services that Evergreen can offer and makes an appointment for a visit. The Supportive Care Coordinator asks how they’re coping with their treatment and their disease, as well as the reaction of family members. She asks them to tell her what life was like before, and what it’s like now.

She then determines just how Evergreen Hospice can best support the client and family. After that, she talks with Ginny Bidwell, Coordinator of Volunteers with Evergreen who matches volunteers with clients.

Question – Does anyone ever refuse this offer of support?

Yes, sometimes. Some people have an extended family or a network of friends, so they have the support they need. For some, it’s hard to allow other people into their lives even when they are feeling so vulnerable. Some might feel that their sense of independence is being compromised. It is not uncommon for family members to think that they can do it all, and to feel that if they allow someone else to help them, they are reneging on a responsibility that they should be able to handle themselves.

Question – How does Evergreen counter that?

That is a challenge. Just receiving a diagnosis of cancer, ALS, MS or any other major disease can be devastating. So our approach is to say, “We’re here to help you sort out the help you need, to provide the support to you and your family, to be your advocate with the various health care agencies, and to listen to you.” If circumstances change and they no longer needs us as they once did, we back away and remain a contact for the future should they need us again.

Increasing the community’s understanding of Evergreen’s services is important. It’s why Evergreen is trying to reach out to doctors and hospitals, so that they can convey to their patients that Evergreen Hospice can support them in this life-changing diagnosis.

Question – How is Evergreen doing this?

Evergreen communicates each year with physicians in Markham and Whitchurch-Stouffville reminding them that by referring their vulnerable patients to us, the burden and demand on their time and waiting room capacity is reduced. It is important that the health care providers be aware of our services and be able to talk knowledgeably about us. We want health care providers to see a referral to Evergreen Hospice as a positive step resulting in the provision of highly rated service to their valued patients rather than an admission that they can do nothing further.

Question – What is your perspective on Evergreen’s role with clients who have Life Threatening/Life Limiting Illnesses?

As a Hospice representative, the Supportive Care Coordinator listens to client’s concerns. Sometimes family members and clients don’t know how to look for support, so we encourage them to look at solutions, and then we might make suggestions as to what action they could take. We show them how to advocate for themselves. We give them the options.

We look at the whole picture, to ensure that the family can function. For example, do they need a social worker; a nurse to come in to do procedures such as taking blood pressure, giving injections; do they need a PSW – Personal Service Worker (personal aid person who comes in and does the bath, feeding, daily living activities)?

Question – What is your specific role with the client?

The Supportive Care Coordinator’s role is to be in contact with our clients to monitor how they are doing physically and emotionally, to offer support by way of talking with them, finding a volunteer to be with them, contacting their case coordinator if there has been a change in physical status, and encouraging them to be advocates for themselves.

I have found that we are the person that the client can voice their concerns/worries/questions to when they can’t or don’t want to ask their close family. Our role is supportive for clients and their families. We work closely with the client volunteers to monitor our clients’ status and to address any concerns. The volunteers do the real work of hospice; they are just amazing.

Question – In your view, what is Evergreen’s greatest strength?

Our strength is in our volunteers. We have approximately 80 client volunteers, serving in a variety of roles.  As I’m talking to all of the clients, the first thing they tell me is how much they appreciate the volunteers. These dedicated women and men provide a caring presence when it is most needed.

By Gerrie Storr