Ten palliative care beds re-open today at Thunder Bay's St. Joseph's Hospital after having been closed for renovations for the last six months.

Manager Marianne Larson says the previously outdated rooms are now much more pleasant for end-of-life patients.

And with the addition of a daybed in every room, it's easier for family members to stay with their loved one.

"We used to put cots in and out of the rooms all the time,” she said. “It's not very comfortable for families, [so] this just sort of solved our problem. Not only is it seating, if you take that top pillow off, it's the width of a single bed so someone can sleep on there."

Each new room also has a small fridge, a flat screen TV and WiFi internet access.

Karin Sitko

Karin Sitko says after her husband passed away about six years ago, she decided she wanted to help make changes to the hospice to make it easier for families to spend time there. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

‘More comfortable’

It’s a welcome change for Karin Sitko, who spent a lot of time at the hospice several years ago when her husband was dying of cancer.

"As a family member, we're here quite often,” Sitko said.

“Sometimes ... overnight, during the day, all hours.  And ... what struck me the most, I think, was the fact that we needed a daybed of some kind."

Following that experience, she started a campaign that ultimately raised $900,000 for renovations.

Sitko said she's thrilled with the results.

"I think the future families that will have to spend time here will be a lot more comfortable and it'll be a little bit better experience for them,” she said.

St. Joseph's has an additional 22 palliative care beds in four-person wards, as well as one semi-private room.

Tracy Buckler

St. Joseph's Care Group president and CEO Tracy Buckler says the hospital is confident the affected registered practical nurses will move into other positions or retire, rather than being laid off. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

More renovations ahead?

Hospital officials say they hope to eventually renovate those rooms as well.

St. Joseph's Care Group president and CEO Tracy Buckler said the hospital is "delighted" with the 10 renovated private rooms.

"We need to really take a good look at what we can do on the other side of the hospice/palliative unit to renovate it, perhaps within our own capital funds,” Buckler said. “And look at different options as to what we can do to augment the campaign funds, because there definitely won't be sufficient funds to do it all at this point."

Buckler said the hospital wants to eliminate the four-bed ward rooms and move to only semi-private or private rooms.

"Four-bed wards aren't conducive to best practices in terms of safety or infection control, not to mention client comfort and privacy and confidentiality," Buckler said.


Marianne Larson

"We'll be glad when we can [renovate] the other side," says the clinical manager of the palliative and hospice unit, Marianne Larson. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Marianne Larson added that, as much as the hospital wants to get rid of the ward rooms, reducing the number of beds in them is not an option right now because they are needed.

The hospice tries to bring in people waiting for palliative care — either in the community or at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre — as quickly as possible.

Larson, a nurse who has managed the hospice at St. Joseph's for 10 years, says the rooms have been transformed.

It's bright, it's clean, it's beautiful in here compared to what it was before," she said. "It was very outdated."

Sitko said she had no idea what the extent of the renovations would be when she first started on the fundraising campaign.

"I thought, initially, I would come in and perhaps paint a room, donate some furniture, help out in that regard," she said. "In speaking with others in the community, it grew ... [and] grew and it became a campaign for the St. Joseph's Care Group."

Sitting in one of the renovated rooms on Tuesday, Sitko said it was an "emotional" experience.

"I'm almost speechless," she said. "It's really nice to see the changes. It's just incredible what they've done."