First Halifax hospice to open in early April

After many years of fundraising and planning, nurses and physicians have confirmed that the very first hospice in Halifax will open for patients April 8.

Construction on the 10-bedroom facility on Francklyn Street is scheduled for completion by the end of the month, with early application procedures set to begin March 27.

“We’re pretty excited about what’s about to happen here,” said Hospice Halifax CEO Gordon Neal, during a media tour of the site Tuesday.

Global News

“It’s been a long time coming. People have worked a long time. There’s going to be lots of celebrations on the day we open.”

A hospice is a place for terminal patients to spend their last few weeks in comfort when their care needs become too burdensome to stay at home, but they don’t wish to pass in a hospital.

Halifax is currently the largest community in Canada that doesn’t have one.

The new site on Francklyn Street will be the first hospice in Nova Scotia and will have room for patients’ families, along with flat screen TVs, a fireplace, heated terraces, recreational space and staff rooms.

But the eligibility requirements to stay there are strict and its staff anticipate a lengthy waiting list.

“The primary focus (of eligibility) is on the patient’s care needs,” said Hospice Halifax’s medical director, Dr. Stephanie Connidis.

“The second thing is, can we safely meet those care needs? Do we have the expertise to meet those care needs, and probably the third one is, is that person at risk of having to go to an emergency department to have those care needs met?”

Nurses and physicians at the hospice will be able to administer medication, treat wounds and meet most basic care needs, the team explained, but they won’t be able to take in patients whose treatment requires complex equipment or technical expertise. According to the criteria released on Tuesday, examples include patients who are ventilator-dependent, receiving dialysis, or requiring ongoing blood transfusions.

Other requirements of admission to the hospice include a predicted life expectancy of less than three months and a Palliative Performance Scale score of less than 50 per cent. In order to apply for residency at the hospice, a patient’s primary health care professional must submit a request for assessment.

Hospice Halifax staff expect the average patient stay will be around three weeks, with roughly 200 patients served per year at an operating cost of roughly $2 million. A stay at the hospice is free of charge, due to funding from the Nova Scotia Health Authority and community donations.

In addition to a number of construction delays, Neal said fundraising for the hospice was the greatest obstacle to its fruition -– partially due to a lack of understanding in Nova Scotia about what a hospice is.

“A hospice as a place of care was foreign to our province,” he told Global News. “Someone suggested we should build a hospice. This was in 2011, and I said, ‘What’s a hospice?’ And I was reflective of most of the population of Nova Scotia.”

The organization is still refining its policies on medically-assisted dying within the facility and use of cannabis on-site.

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