A Thunder Bay woman says although construction to the palliative care and hospice unit at St. Joseph's Care Group will benefit patients in the future, the disruption is causing distress for people living there right now.

The hospital is renovating its 10 private hospice rooms to create a more home-like atmosphere, but during the process, end-of-life patients are sharing two to four-person rooms.

Amy Vervoort, whose mother is in the hospice after a three-year battle with cancer, said the arrangement has been a problem.

She emphasized her mother is receiving "phenomenal" nursing care, but said the lack of privacy is making an already painful time even harder.  

"It's difficult to grieve and to say goodbye and spend your time with your loved one when there's three other people in the room and all of their family members," she said. "This isn't what [my mother] wanted. She wanted peace. She wanted privacy."

Vervoort said the commotion of people coming and going, as well as the sounds of other patients' medical alarms, are distressing for her mother. "She can't speak anymore but I can see it in her face," she said. "The noises around her agitate her and sometimes scare her."

In the private rooms, family members could stay overnight on cots, but Vervoort said there's no space for that now. "It's really difficult to leave at the end of the day, knowing that something could happen throughout the night and we won't be here," she said. "Just having to... leave her in this situation, it's hard."

Renovations to provide more privacy and comfort

St. Joseph's vice-president of complex care and physical rehabilitation services, Meaghan Sharp, said private rooms are the norm for the hospice and acknowledged the temporary situation is difficult.

"I appreciate where the family is coming from," she said, adding staff are trying to find a private room for them somewhere in the hospital.

Sharp said the 32-bed unit is down 10 beds during the renovations, so patients have to share rooms so everyone requiring palliative and hospice services can be accommodated.

She said the construction, which began in March, is expected to be finished in July. Sharp said the end result will be more privacy and comfort for patients and their loved ones, including permanent daybeds where family members can sleep.  

Vervoort said she understands the need for the renovations, but doesn't understand why private rooms couldn't be kept open during the process. 

"From what we can see through our experience it was not well planned," she said. "Telling a grieving family who are in this situation now that it's going to be great down the line for other people is sort of a stab."

"I'm happy for those other families... but I don't see why my family and my mother has to suffer in the meantime," Vervoort added. "It's just wrong."