Island Health opts to move Comox hospice beds to secular facility

Comox Valley residents who want access to medical assistance in dying are celebrating a decision to move the region’s hospice beds into a secular space.

The Comox Valley’s four hospice beds are hosted in Hospice at the Views, which is run by St. Joseph’s General Hospital. As a faith-based facility, it does not allow assisted dying.

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Those four beds, as well as two new ones, will be located together in a different location, said Elin Bjarnason, executive lead for end-of-life and medical quality at Island Health.

“We’ve been considering for some time the location. And in conversation with St. Joseph’s around their contract for the four hospice beds, we’ve come to an agreement that we will relocate those four hospice beds,” she said. “So we’ll have a six-bed hospice unit somewhere in the Comox Valley.”

Island Health is looking for a location and is considering Cumberland Lodge, a 66-bed residential-care facility that it owns and operates.

Bjarnason said she hopes a decision is made by mid-October, so the beds can be in place in April 2018.

She said the move doesn’t come with any financial compensation for St. Joseph’s, but that some other model of care may be supported, such as respite care.

Although residents at the St. Joseph’s facility aren’t receiving medical assistance in dying, they are receiving excellent palliative care, she said.

In April, 88 Comox Valley physicians signed a letter to Island Health that called for a non-religious site to host hospice beds.

Only 11.5 per cent of Comox Valley residents identified themselves as Catholic in the 2011 census.

The decision was announced Thursday at Island Health’s board of director’s meeting, following a presentation by a group of residents called the Equal Access Committee.

Representative Reg Crone told the board the group had collected more than 1,500 signatures since May on a petition calling for more access to medical assistance in dying — specifically for the hospice beds to be secular and for the expansion of faith-based residential care to be blocked.

He said he was pleased with the news.

“It’s very positive, it’s good,” Crone said. “The key thing to recognize, though, is that hospice is just part of it. The residential side of it is equally important.”

Under a longer-term plan, the 102-bed secular care home Glacier View Lodge will merge with St. Joseph’s and Providence Health Care, another faith-based care provider.

Crone said that would put the majority of residential care beds in the Valley under faith-based administration.

St. Joseph’s respects Island Health’s decision, said president and CEO Jane Murphy in a statement.

“We all agree that separating the [hospice] beds is a less than ideal operating model for our community,” Murphy said.

“While this is very disappointing for St. Joseph’s to have to discontinue the excellent hospice care, it has been able to provide to this community since 2015, it is not in any way a reflection of the quality of care that has been provided at Hospice at the Views,” she said.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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