Bruyère creates palliative partnership with Sharon Carstairs, OutCare Foundation

Nursing fellowship launched as health-care organization consolidates palliative expertise at Saint-Vincent Hospital campus

From left, retired Canadian senator Sharon Carstairs has helped to create a new nursing fellowship in palliative care at Bruyère, along with the OutCare Foundation, represented by board chair Christine Irvine (centre), seen together on the outdoor terrace of Bruyère's Saint-Vincent Hospital campus with Paula Doering (far right), senior vice-president of clinical programs and chief nursing executive at Bruyère. By Caroline Phillips

What does Bruyère have in common with bingo? Its brand new fellowship to train more of its nurses in the growing field of palliative care through funds raised from The OutCare Foundation’s 8th Annual Black Tie Bingo gala held this past fall.

Also a benefactor is retired political leader Sharon Carstairs, a well-known Canadian pioneer in palliative care.

The OutCare Foundation decided — with the worst of the pandemic behind us — to bring members of the business and broader community together again for its signature gala this past Nov. 12. Attendees donned their finest for a night of dining followed by some exciting games of bingo for a chance to win donated prizes.

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The evening raised money for OutCare Foundation and its programs that support community-based palliative care in the region. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary specialty of medicine focused on providing support for people with serious and life-threatening illnesses.

“We wanted it to directly and positively influence front-line health-care workers,” OutCare Foundation’s board chair Christine Irvine said of the fundraising objective. “Whether it was through nursing or through medicine, we really wanted to do something to improve palliative care and access to palliative care.”

Supporters included CIBC Wood Gundy senior wealth advisor Timothy Orr, CIBC Asset Management regional director Chris Dubois, Logan Katz founding partner Gary Katz, Paul Brousseau, president of BMR Group, and Sylvie Forget-Swim, partner and CEO of Palladium Insurance.

The Black Tie Bingo also celebrated a milestone birthday for special guest Carstairs, 80, a former board chair of OutCare Foundation. The octogenarian has been a trailblazer, not only as the first woman in Canada to lead an official opposition party (she was head of the Manitoba Liberal Party in the 1980s and early 1990s) but also for her subsequent work as a Canadian senator advocating for better end-of-life care. In the early 2000s, she was appointed by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien as Minister with Special Responsibility for Palliative Care.

Retired Canadian senator Sharon Carstairs is a tireless champion for improved access to quality palliative and end-of-life care for Canadians. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The OutCare Foundation wanted to honour Carstairs in an impactful way, said Irvine. For nearly 30 years, she’s championed the cause of palliative care, helping Canadians be able to, essentially, live better and die better.

The charity decided to collaborate with Bruyère, recognizing that the bilingual health-care organization holds a stellar reputation in palliative care. It was Tom Hewitt, president of Bruyère Foundation, who connected the charity with Paula Doering, senior vice-president of clinical programs and chief nursing executive at Bruyère, and Val Fiset, executive director of the Champlain Hospice Palliative Care Program. 

Together, the organizations came up with the Sharon Carstairs/OutCare Foundation Fellowship for Hospice Palliative Nursing. The professional development program allows nurses to gain skills, knowledge and expertise in the area of palliative care under the guidance of a project mentor. 

Palliative care involves taking a holistic approach — one that focuses on the whole person and not just the life-limiting medical condition — in order to help patients to live well for as long as possible. Such care can be given early in the course of various illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Yet there remains a misconception that palliative care should only be offered during the last few weeks of a person’s life, said Carstairs.

“It’s not necessarily about dying,” she said. “It’s about living well until the very end.”

Studies have shown that patients treated with a palliative care approach live longer than those who are not due to better symptom control, better satisfaction with care and better quality of life.

Everyone stands to benefit, including the patient’s friends and family, added Irvine. “If they are part of the journey, then they are adjusting to the reality of the situation on an ongoing basis and they’re better prepared when the time comes for their loved one to pass.”

The OutCare Foundation contributed $50,000 toward the endowed fellowship, which includes the $25,000 raised from its Black Tie Bingo dinner. Carstairs and her husband, John, are giving $90,000. Bruyère will also provide annual financial support. 

The program will award one 12-week fellowship annually, with the first fellowship to be offered in January 2024.

When people think of Bruyère, palliative care is often what pops into their minds, said Doering. The multi-site academic health-care organization is the largest in the region when it comes to focusing on aging and older adults.

“We have an exceptional palliative care program,” she added. “It’s known nationally and internationally for its clinical care, academic learning and its research.”

In the coming months, Bruyère will consolidate its palliative expertise by having it all located at the Saint-Vincent Hospital campus, where most of its 300-plus patients are living with multiple complex conditions. Many of those patients are admitted for weeks, months or sometimes even years.

Bruyère’s $6-million Celebrating Life at Every Stage campaign to unite palliative and complex care is something that the doctors have been wanting to happen “for years,” said Doering. “The teams are very excited.”

Bruyère is transferring its 31 in-patient bed unit at the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital (in Lowertown) to Saint-Vincent (in Centretown West) in its effort to unify two highly specialized programs.

All patients at the Saint-Vincent campus will have increased access to specialized care, including palliative care consultations for pain and symptom management.

There will be “multiple benefits” to having the two specialized fields co-located, said Doering, while also mentioning academic learning and research opportunities. “We will see so many synergies; it will be remarkable. We’re chomping at the bit for this. I can’t wait.”

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