Imagine you’re feeling sick. Not sick enough to go to the hospital, but sick enough that you want to stay within easy reach of the trash can, washroom, and medicine cabinet. Now imagine you’re this sick, but you don’t have a bed to rest in, a washroom to run to, or a home for privacy from prying eyes.
This is the reality for many people who find themselves homeless in Ottawa. It’s not an easy existence on most days, but sickness makes it that much worse.
Now imagine you’re dealing with something more severe than an everyday sickness, like a chronic illness or terminal condition. Imagine being homeless and dealing with cancer, Hepatitis C or even organ failure. These are just some of the conditions faced by patients at The Diane Morrison Hospice at The Ottawa Mission.
“People who are homeless or street-involved have a much higher burden of serious physical and mental health conditions,” explains Wendy Muckle, CEO of Ottawa Inner City Health. She, along with Dr. Jeffery Turnbull and Diane Morrison, the former Executive Director of The Mission, founded the Hospice in 2001.
The Mission’s Hospice was the first to be affiliated with a homeless shelter in all of North America. Even today, 20 years later, care teams from around the world come to visit The Ottawa Mission so they can establish similar facilities in their communities.
The Hospice specializes in palliative care for people who may have several concurrent health conditions and who may also be dealing with addictions or mental health challenges. Traditional hospice care can be ill-equipped to care for this population, so The Mission’s Hospice is often the only place for these patients to receive the care they need.
Jeff was admitted to the Hospice in 2018. In his younger years he spent time on the stage and in the restaurant industry, but he struggled later in life and would sometimes stay at The Mission. When he could no longer take care of himself because of illness, he came to the Hospice. He was gravely ill when he arrived, but he improved under the expert care and lived almost two more years.
“I am often overwhelmed with gratitude,” he said during his stay. “Anyone who is struggling should know that the doors at The Ottawa Mission are always open.”
In the words of Jack, another former patient, “The Ottawa Mission Hospice is the nicest place I have ever lived. No one in my entire life has ever cared for me this much.”
In October we recognize World Hospice and Palliative Care Day on the 9th and World Homelessness Day on the 10th. Both are important reminders to see the dignity in the faces of society’s most vulnerable individuals and to do our part to care for them.
Staff, volunteers and donors at the Diane Morrison Hospice are doing just that. Over the past 20 years, they’ve been paving the way with excellence in compassionate care, and our city is better for it.