The Enrichment of End-of-Life Care at Pinehaven

Earlier this year, two team members at Waterloo’s Pinehaven Nursing Home took it upon themselves to organize a palliative care committee. In recent years, older views on long-term care support have given way to a much more person-centred approach in the home, and the enrichment of end-of life care for both residents and loved ones is a natural extension of this transformation.

The palliative care committee has grown organically in the home, says director of care Jill MacQueen, beginning with the inspiration of RPN Lucy Ryan and RN Ruba Omaish. It was not something “management” mandated but instead, involves team members from across the village in every discipline working together to soften the difficult, yet natural process of death for all involved.

There was a time the home had a different view, similar to that of so many other long-term care settings that have yet to shift from an institutional model of care to a more social model. When a resident died in the past, it was believed that neighbours should be sheltered from the experience and palliative care was often tucked away, hidden from sight in the hopes that fellow residents might be spared the worry that confronting mortality might supposedly inspire.

When Ruba and Lucy began the committee, however, the conversation around death began to shift and organically, just as with the committee, a new tradition at the passing of a resident emerged. Jill says it was a beautiful and powerful experience when the home held its first dignity walk. 

The resident who passed away hadn’t lived at the home for long, but he’d connected with and grown close to many of the team members. Personal support worker Jen Hooisma was one of them, and when this gentleman passed, Jen took the lead in announcing the dignity walk. Pinehaven has an intercom, and Jen’s voice came on that day to speak about the person they were honouring.

“She started off by saying: ‘good morning Pinehaven family,’ ” Jill recalls, echoing Jen’s words. “She went on to tell this story about how she really wants to honour this person and he had such a life before he came to Pinehaven.” It was a touching tribute, she says, one that not only honoured the life of a particular resident but the true depth of caring that defines the home. ‘Pinehaven family,’ as Jen put it in her greeting, is truly fitting.

“We always talk about how we’re one big family and I just loved that first line,” Jill says.

As the resident was ushered through the home and out the front doors, one of the team members knew to play his favourite Johnny Cash song, and team members and residents later shared stories about the man they’d come to know. There was honour that day, and dignity to be sure as the home said goodbye to a family member.  In that act and through the efforts of the palliative care committee, signs of culture change continue to emerge, and the team at Pinehaven is proud to be a part of it.