2019/2020 Year in Review
(As presented by Board Chair, David West at our 2020 AGM held on June 16)
Foothills Country Hospice opened its doors in January 2008. Since that time, our hospice team has cared for close to 1200 residents and their loved ones. We all know that the exemplary reputation of the Hospice is built on the backs of the leadership, staff, and volunteers. We thank them all for their dedication, compassion, and service.
Over the past fiscal year, our team of volunteers have logged a total of 10,159 volunteer hours. For those of you wondering, this is the equivalent of more than 423 days of work, working around the clock. We owe a great deal to our volunteers! Truly, we would not be the facility we are without them! On May 9th 2019, as we do each year, we celebrated our volunteers with a Volunteer Appreciation event at DeWinton Hall. A good time was had by all!
While we’re on the topic of debts of gratitude, we would be remiss if we didn’t take an opportunity to thank Dave and Joann Gilbert of Okotoks Sobeys who continue to supply all of the food for all of our residents. I think it’s important that we also acknowledge that Dave and Joann have done this since the Hospice opened our doors more than 12 years ago. Thank you to the Gilberts, from the bottom of our collective hearts, for your tremendous generosity!
As you are all aware, Foothills Country Hospice has the momentous task each year of fundraising the shortfall in our operating budget. We have a stellar team on the Fund Development Committee who spearhead a number of events throughout the year to raise money for Hospice operations. Our 3rd Annual Hike for Hospice was held in May 2019 and raised $60,745. This event is special because it costs us nothing more than our time to put it on. Every aspect of the Hike is covered by donations from local supporters, and there are many! In August 2019, our 2nd annual Rally for Hospice was held, followed by our evening gala at Spruce Meadows. Both the day and the evening were a huge success – we raised $205,000 net of expenses.
For those of you who have followed the hospice over the past several years you will know that the board has wrestled with nation-wide changes surrounding Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). The board first started to consider MAiD in 2016 and voted in 2017 that the Hospice would not be a provisioning site. As things progressed both nationally and locally, the board revisited their decision in 2018 and after a year of research and extensive consultation with stakeholders and community members, voted in May 2019 for the Hospice to become a provisioning site.
Recognizing that the implementation of this policy change would have many challenges and would stretch the staff and volunteers at the Hospice, a moratorium on the provisioning of MAiD at the Hospice was put in place until earlier this year, allowing all involved the necessary time to ensure the policies and procedures were in place to fine tune the delicate balance of individual rights of patients with those of the staff and volunteers. In early 2020 the Hospice accommodated their first patients requesting medical assistance in dying.
The professionalism of all those involved in ensuring the implementation of MAiD went smoothly cannot be understated. We as a board recognize that this has been a challenging shift for the Hospice, and we thank all those who had a hand in ensuring a respectful, compassionate, and professional implementation.
There have long been whispers of the Hospice expanding their services to either additional beds or community outreach, or both. These whispers found a voice in September 2019 when the board recognized the necessity of revisiting the expansion discussion to assess the needs of palliative patients particularly in the Foothills, to embrace our desire to be a leader in innovation for rural hospices, and to determine the viability of implementing an expansion of services.
We are ever-mindful of the momentous task we face each year of fundraising our deficit. And we are further mindful that the vast majority of our fundraising donations come from the good people of Okotoks and the foothills communities. One of the drivers for expansion is to improve and optimize our financial stability. We recognize that our revenue model has been overly reliant on private donors – we have been incredibly fortunate to be supported by the foothills community but it can be unpredictable and fluctuating.
With this in mind we set out on our expansion discussion with three broad goals: first, to ensure any expansion we undertake is economically viable so we are not unduly increasing the burden on our stakeholders and donors. Second, to take a broad view of expansion so as to not limit ourselves to simply an expansion of physical space. We know that many individuals would opt for their final days to be spent at home if it were supported and viable, so it is incumbent on us to educate ourselves on what other jurisdictions have done, including places outside of North America, and to look at the needs and desires of an aging population through this lens; we would love to expand our programming beyond the walls of the Hospice.
Finally, we have tasked ourselves with being a leader among rural hospices and to share our expertise, particularly around our expansion innovations, with other rural hospices. This is not new for the Hospice as we have always been a cooperative partner to other facilities. We anticipate increased community engagement and cooperation with other agencies in the area to be a central theme of our expansion plans.
With these objectives in mind, the board formed an Expansion Committee in September 2019 and the work began.
In January of this year we held a board retreat with our central focus being on expansion. We heard from the leadership of Pilgrims Hospice out of Edmonton about how they handled their nearly-complete, massive expansion. And we discussed at length as a board the “whys” and “whats” and “hows” of expansion.
It became readily apparent that this was too large a task to be accomplished by a group of well-meaning volunteers so shortly after our board retreat we put forward the name of one of our then directors, Jodie Suitor, to spearhead our expansion efforts. We accepted her resignation from the board to avoid any potential conflicts of interest and hired her as our Expansion Director. Jodie has a background in change management and business planning, plus the personal experience of her father having spent his final days at the Hospice so she was a natural choice to take the reins. Over the past several months Jodie and the expansion committee have been diligently gathering information from all available sources with the goal being for the board to return this fall ready to analyze her findings and make decisions on whether or not expansion is a viable option, and if it is, what form should it take.
Stay tuned for much more on this topic in the near future as there are many exciting happenings on this front. And if any of you are curious about what is going on vis-à-vis expansion, we would be happy to hear your thoughts. Dawn has all of our contact information so please feel free to send an email or make a call if you want to discuss.
In conclusion, I think it’s important that we address the microscopic elephant in the room that has forced us to hold this meeting virtually. At a time when it would be great to shake your hands, catch up with old friends, and welcome new board members in real life, we are all stuck dealing with a worldwide pandemic. That isn’t to suggest we aren’t doing exactly what we should be doing, but we don’t have to ignore the fact that all of our lives have been turned upside down by the events of the past three months.
The Hospice has been greatly impacted by COVID-19 as a result of ever-shifting directives from AHS and a heightened focus on safety and risk management. It is unnecessary to go into detail on what the Hospice has had to endure throughout this pandemic, but I would be remiss if I didn’t address two aspects of the tremendous impact we have felt.
First, a directive came down that volunteers would no longer be able to give of their time and talents to the Hospice. We miss them terribly! We know of their dedication and great skills and talents that they so freely give to the Hospice and we look forward to the day when we can welcome them back.
Second, I would like to take a moment to recognize the leadership and commitment of our Executive Director, Dawn Elliott. Dawn has led the Hospice and guided the team with compassion, patience, and countless hours throughout this pandemic to ensure not only the safety of our residents and the staff on the front lines, but also to ensure that everyone has felt supported. At a time when we must work together, Dawn’s leadership has been exemplary in ensuring the team is on the same page, pulling in the same direction, and keeping the Hospice moving forward. Thank you Dawn.
As we put another year in the books, we can be proud of the work we have done to date. In the 12 short years of the Hospice we have become the gold standard of Hospice care. And as we move forward to expand our reach and offer compassionate end-of-life care to those in the foothills, we have much to be excited about. It is to the credit of all of you, and those who came before us, that Foothills Country Hospice is and will remain a crown jewel of rural hospice care and a point of well-deserved pride for those who have made it what it is today.