Growing the Circle of Care: Implementing Nav-CARE at Bruce Peninsula Hospice

In the heart of Ontario’s stunning Bruce Peninsula, where the rugged cliffs of the Niagara escarpment meet the clear waters of Georgian Bay, a small but mighty organization is a beacon of compassion and support for the communities it serves. With its offices in the charming town of Wiarton, Bruce Peninsula Hospice has become a source of solace for those navigating their end-of-life journeys. While the support it provides has been greatly valued for close to 30 years, Bruce Peninsula Hospice came to recognize that it could extend its reach, and deepen its capacity, by engaging with people earlier in their illness trajectory or with individuals during their grief journey. As such, Nav-CARE (Navigating: Connecting, Advocating, Resourcing, Engaging), a program that seeks to improve the quality of life of persons living with declining health while also supporting loved ones, has been implemented to complement the services that the hospice already provides.

Owing to its natural beauty, the Bruce Peninsula is a popular retirement destination. As Nancy Forgrave, Manager – Volunteer Programs and Outreach explains, many people sell their homes in southern Ontario and move “up north” to their cottages by the water or on homesteads. Their adult children tend to live considerable distances away which, during times of declining health or the death of a loved one, can mean that isolation and loneliness is prevalent. This is often compounded in the winter months by inclement weather and associated road closures. Aware of these challenges, Nancy knew that Nav-CARE would be a perfect fit, and its’ implementation would enable the hospice to grow its’ circle of care.

Nancy goes on to explain that an individuals’ circle of care is one that stretches from immediate family, friends, and neighbours, to healthcare professionals and volunteers, all of whom bring their own unique contribution. She noted how volunteer support is complimentary and benefits the whole family, and that the introduction of Nav-CARE would mean that this could occur much earlier in the illness trajectory and in grief. Nancy went on to convey how volunteers ensure that the needs of the person they are working with are met, while simultaneously providing “reassurance, support, and comfort” for the rest of the family particularly when they may not live close by.

In talking about the expanded circle of care, Nancy explained the importance of the volunteer role being confidential. She highlighted that people can be more vulnerable as they navigate an illness or grief journey and added, “when you are vulnerable, you seek privacy, you isolate yourself…[and it’s reassuring to know] that your story will be held in confidence”, as this may not necessarily be the case when you converse with relatives or neighbours. She also spoke about how volunteers spend time “getting to know them, … who they are, what they’ve done”, rather than their medical situation, and she noted how people really come to appreciate this, and the fact that “there is someone there that they look fo ward to seeing every week, and who they can count on”.

Nav-CARE enables volunteers to look at all the domains affecting a person’s quality of life, focusing on practical and emotional needs aside from medical needs. Nancy recounts some wonderful stories of volunteers playing music with their clients, and reading about history together, and how these small things can bring so much joy. It is reassuring for loved ones to know that someone is checking in and offering care and attention while for primary care givers, it provides respite enabling them to take some time for themselves without having to worry. The emotional reciprocity that is felt from being part of this circle of care is a strong sentiment often expressed by volunteers. Nancy explains how volunteering “makes us richer” and “it is a privilege [for volunteers] to journey alongside someone as they walk the journey of declining health or grief…being able to be part of a person’s life, at a very significant time, is certainly an honour”.

Bruce Peninsula Hospice truly embraces the importance of human connection. The implementation of Nav-CARE to compliment existing programs will enable Bruce Peninsula Hospice to touch the lives of many more individuals living with declining health in this community, or who are experiencing grief, and help to expand their circle of care.

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