West Niagara palliative care team wants to provide the best end-of-life care for all of the community

Dying has a 100 per cent incidence rate. Like it or not, we’ll all experience it at some point, so it’s crucial we make that part of life as comfortable as possible.

That, says Dr. Denise Marshall, physician with the Niagara West Palliative Care Team and McNally House, is where good palliative care comes in.

According to Marshall, west Niagara is fortunate on that front, thanks to the rare palliative care model, which focuses on community-based care.

“It’s a population-based model,” she said. “In other words, it’s not like you (only) get palliative care if you’re a patient in the hospital or here in this care home. It serves this whole population that we would call Niagara West.”

And McNally House Hospice in Grimsby is what Marshall called the “missing setting of care.” Beforehand, palliative care tended to be provided in the home or in the hospital. But when the McNally House Hospice opened with the help of Marshall in 2008, it provided another setting of care.

And that’s been valued by the community.

John “JD” Pachereva experienced the value of the hospice when his father, John Pachereva, was cared for by the team at McNally.

“He got round-the-clock care there,” said Pachereva, “They were terrific. They had the expertise on how to deal with this. This was all new to us … It just it made it that much more comforting … it was a godsend.”

JD now sits on the Wise Guys Charity Fund, which donated $42,000 for a new accessibility lift at McNally in 2019.

And, as the hospice prepares to start a new chapter, opening a larger facility by expanding into the land next to the current building after council approval in March 2022, Pachereva said he was behind the campaign all the way.

“And we wholeheartedly jumped in to support the campaign for the new 10-bed hospice,” he said. “Having had that personal experience, and the care and the understanding and the compassion that you get from there, it’s a no-brainer.”

The expansion will see capacity grow from six to 10 beds, with a host of extras such as a family suite so relatives can stay over, more meeting spaces, a day hospice to support those with life-limiting illnesses in the community, and their relatives and carers.

For Pamela Blackwood, executive director of McNally House, the increased capacity will accommodate the patients who want to die in a hospice, but can’t due to lack of space. In 2022, Blackwood said 32 people in west Niagara who wanted to spend their final days in hospice were unable to, due to space constraints

“It will really bring the palliative care movement to the next level,” she said.”

McNally House fits within a wider west Niagara palliative care model, which is community-based, a model which Marshall said is vanishingly rare, but which should be present everywhere.

For patients, she said, it provides continuity, because rather than the patients being seen solely by specialist palliative physicians, they are seen by their family doctor across different care settings.

It’s also cost-effective, she said, because the community forms the majority of care, rather than being reliant on specialists.

And, with the seismic demographic shifts of Canada’s aging population, Marshall believes this is the only model that can meet the challenges of the future.

As Marshall steps down from her leading role within the west Niagara palliative care team and passes the torch to Dr. Alison Flanagan, she’s keen to see what the new chapter will bring.

And as she looks to the future, Marshall has set the team the challenge of making sure that as the demographics of west Niagara change, no one is left behind, no matter their background.

“That’s … my swan song pitch to them,” she said. “Leave no one behind.”

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News