Driving by your old childhood home can be a cathartic experience, bringing up powerful emotions and memories you may have forgotten about.
For those in hospice, the chance to revisit a special place one last time can be even more meaningful, and can act as a significant tool in processing their end-of-life care. Until now, that type of trip may have been impossible, requiring extensive planning, staffing and scheduling to make a reality.
A new program run by The Hospice of Windsor-Essex is making those special outings freely available and accessible to their patients, at any time they want to request a trip. Through the donation of a now-retrofitted ambulance from the Essex-Windsor EMS, patients can now safely drive by a childhood home, be able to attend a family reunion, or even take a trip for something more simple, like visiting a favourite park.
"If we can get them to a wedding, if we can get them back to their home, and EMS are willing to support us doing those types of trips…This is important for a lot of people. [It's] important to their daily living, their memories and their families' memories," said Nancy Brockenshire, executive director of The Hospice of Windsor-Essex.
A group of 40 paramedics have offered to volunteer to drive the retrofitted ambulance, which has had two new windows and additional seating added, to make the trip comfortable and safe without feeling like a traditional ambulance. The vehicle has also seen a new paint job with calmer colours and the Hospice logo.
EMS Chief Bruce Krauter presented the idea of donating the ambulance with the purpose of making special trips. Typically, ambulances are turned over every five years.
"Our team was thrilled to champion this donation," said Krauter. "Our paramedics and staff look forward to volunteering their time to drive this vehicle, and are honoured to help to provide these experiences."
The one missing step is installing a ramp on the vehicle, at which point, bookings can begin to be made.
Patients under hospice care will be able to request the service anywhere throughout Essex County, opening a new world of possibilities for some of their final life moments. One patient, who used to get ice cream with his family on a weekly basis, but then had to pause due to his condition, will now be able to resume the routine, Brockenshire shared with CBC News.
"Not only are families excited, but so are our staff. Our staff are ecstatic because they're seeing the patients all of the time in their rooms, in their homes, and they know what this would do. We always try to accommodate [our patients], but this takes it to the next level. We are all ready to have some great memories and get people out to some great places," said Brockenshire.
With a specialized vehicle being used solely for this purpose, the initiative is believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario, and it's an initiative the Hospice hopes they can spark in other communities.
"I think it's pretty unique. Once we get on the road, we're going to talk to other hospices and see, but this is a great partnership that EMS came forward with."