Group fears for future of proposed hospice as election looms

A group pushing for a 10-bed palliative-care home in central Newfoundland is looking for some answers from the provincial government. 

The Lionel Kelland Hospice has been in the works since 2014. 

It has registered charity status, a donated building, a board of directors, a number of physicians signing off on the idea, the support of the community, and nearly enough money. 

Our concern now is it's going to get lost in the election. - Mark Griffin

But one of its directors, Mark Griffin, says they don't know whether they have the support of the province. 

"We don't know where government is," he said.

"We don't know if they're interested in the idea of residential hospice as part of end-of-life care — even though every other province in the country has them. We don't know if they are in favour of the location that we have. We do not know if they are interested in the operation governance model that we've put forth."

Submitted by Mark Griffin

The building, the old St. Catherine's Renewal Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor donated by the Presentation Sisters, needs about $3.7 million in repairs, and Griffin says they've committed to putting in half of that money, and contributing to the annual operating costs of the home. 

It would be a stand-alone centre, modeled on a 30-day stay with staff specializing in end-of-life care, allowing people to die in a home-like setting.

Some experts say palliative-care homes can save the health-care system millions by shifting patients outside of the acute-care hospital units, and reducing per-day patient costs.

According to the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, it also reduces patient anxiety and depression, improves their quality of life and, in some cases, extends life.

Last year, Eastern Health became one of seven health authorities across Canada to take part in a program allowing some paramedics provide in-home palliative care.

Need province as partner

In Grand Falls-Windsor, which falls under Central Health, Griffin says they need the province as a partner to operate a separate palliative-care home long term, and he says the government knows it. 

"They asked us to submit a business plan, we did so," he said. "At one point they were concerned about a lack of policy, that issue seems to have disappeared. And then they wanted a needs assessment done."

Griffin says since then they haven't heard much since that last update, and are looking to get some definitive answers on the future of the home. 

"Our concern now is it's going to get lost in the election, and likely not be released, completed, in time to do anything meaningful with it, at least with this mandate," he said. 

Chris Ensing/CBC

Health Minister John Haggie said they were going to do the assessment — to determine how many beds are needed, where, and how to pay for them — but shortly after the last meeting with the Lionel Kelland board, another group in St. John's expressed interest in opening a hospice there. 

Haggie says the provincial government has commissioned a consultant to look for those answers, including how palliative care homes operate in other provinces. 

"They work, there's no doubt about it," he said. 

"As a province, we have never used hospices to this date," he said. "I think it's a real good idea in principle, I just want to make sure it works in the Newfoundland and Labrador context." 

Haggie says they hope to have consultants report back and to be able to make a decision this summer. 

In the meantime, voters get ready to head to the polls in an early provincial election that could put a brand new government in place by then. 

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