Renfrew hospice with country feel eyes expansion

When Hospice Renfrew opened 10 years ago, it was among the first of its kind — a home offering palliative care in a rural setting to those nearing the end of life. Now the six-bed facility says it needs to expand to meet a growing need across Renfrew County.

6-bed palliative care home among first of its kind in Ontario

Robbie Jo Kraft enjoys watching the deer from her window at Hospice Renfrew. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

When Hospice Renfrew opened 10 years ago, it was among the first of its kind — a home offering palliative care in a rural setting to those nearing the end of life.

Now the six-bed centre says it needs to expand to meet a growing need across Renfrew County. 

I didn't expect to hear the laughter.- Maureen Sullivan-Bentz, executive director

The ranch-style building sits near the end of Albert Street and faces the woods at the edge of the town. That's important for residents used to country living.

When Roberta Jo Kraft got sick, she worried about staying in her rural home because of winter weather and unplowed roads. 

The hospice offered a welcoming alternative to a hospital stay and still had a country feel.

"Nice big picture windows mean I can see the deer from my window. And my bed raises up so I can see even the feet of the deer," she said.

"That makes it really nice. I have deer at home, too."

Hospice Renfrew features a bright common area, and big kitchen and dining rooms so families can gather with residents for meals and conversation. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Hospital was only choice

The hospice opened 10 years ago this month, thanks to a massive community effort. But first the province had to be convinced of the need for the $1.4-million project. 

Luckily for its proponents, there was a sound economic argument to be made.

"What we recognized is that more and more people were being admitted to hospital, not because they needed to be in hospital, but because they had nowhere else to go," explained Connie Legg, a former palliative nurse coordinator at the Renfrew Victoria Hospital who helped found the hospice.

"It was an expensive thing for us as taxpayers, but also, it wasn't necessary." 

Community stepped up

Then the community stepped up. Local builders, contractors and painters donated their time and materials, while others in the community signed cheques.
Executive director Maureen Sullivan-Bentz says raising enough money to cover the cost of running the home, plus a portion of the nurses' salaries, has been a challenge. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

The fundraising continued after the hospice was built, and now 50 per cent of its operating costs continue to be covered by the community — a standard arrangement for hospices across the province, but a particular challenge in an economically disadvantaged area like Renfrew County, according to executive director Maureen Sullivan-Bentz.

The hospice gets help from an army of about 100 volunteers who do everything from bake muffins to garden to sit with residents to keep them company.

Still, it costs $600,000 a year to cover groceries, hydro, water bills and the other day-to-day costs of running a home.

On top of that, Hospice Renfrew is responsible for 40 per cent of its nursing salaries, which amounted to about $350,000 in 2017.

Though it opened as a place for end-of-life care, the hospice now welcomes those needing shorter visits for respite care and pain and symptom management.

It has also started welcoming residents from outside the immediate Renfrew area, so its beds are routinely full.

"We're pretty much at our maximum level that we can offer right now because we do have such a tremendous fundraising need," said Sullivan-Bentz.

Home away from home

Sullivan-Bentz said all that community involvement has made the place feel more like a home away from home than a medical centre.

"It really was like walking into a large home rather than a healthcare facility. I think most people expect to see people in the hallways, or hear people moaning in pain or crying, and it's just not like that," she said.

"I didn't expect to hear the laughter."

The expansion plans are still in their early stages, with no firm dollar amount or size of expansion confirmed yet.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning