Hospice for Elgin ‘is not a luxury item. It is absolutely an essential service’

city_scope_logo-cmyk“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.”
Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county.
Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table.
Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.”
In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further.
“It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.”
That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.

Mennill continued, “certainly advocacy or campaigning on their behalf with government agencies is certainly wide open.”
Would the county have surplus land available to house the new facility?
“We don’t have any,” advised Mennill. “I know the province has surplus land at the Ontario Hospital site. There are all kinds of land there. It’s certainly a good location.”
Could funding be an option beyond 2023?
“That would be a decision for the council of the day,” stressed Mennill. “Once the three payments are done, that frees up $275,000 and that could be a way of funding this. But that would the decision of the council of the day.
“The worst thing you would want to do is commit them and they say ‘No.’
“Certainly on behalf of the city and the county, everybody sees value in this.”
Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, remains optimistic in spite of the present uncertain financial commitment at the municipal level.
St. Joseph’s Health Care Society will own and sponsor the hospice with governance through a local board of directors.
Next on the agenda is a meeting on March 3 where the three sides of the equation will sit down to discuss options.
Speaking with Sherwood this week on her reaction to the council’s decision not to proceed with financial support at this time she said, “So if it’s not financial support, what are some other creative ways to work together to help advance the project and so, depending on what that looks like, it might offset some of our budget pieces, which would be great.”
At risk here is a financial commitment of $2 million dollars from a pair of community supporters, contingent on municipal funding.

“From a St Joseph’s perspective, we’re still 110 per cent committed to advancing this project, working with the city and county.”

She added, “Once we know a little bit more from the county’s discussion and have an opportunity to sit down with them, then that will really allow us to go back to our donors to say, listen, here’s kind of where our opportunity is with both city and county.”
Sherwood conceded, “we’re all kind of struggling with budgets.”
She continued, “And so I think we have an appreciation of the pressures on county and city, but also recognizing how critical this service is for the community.
“I think that’s the piece we’ve got some more work to do to help increase awareness and education right across the community that this is not a luxury item. It is absolutely an essential service and in the absence of having this service, with an ageing demographic, it will create a crisis in the community.”
And so, next month’s meeting needs to be a critical step toward building momentum for the fundraising campaign.
“I think there is a willingness to work together and be creative to kind of support everyone’s needs around the table. And then once we have those discussions, we will have to advance that with our donors as well.
“We may not be able to do it in this year’s budget, but absolutely, let’s continue.”
“From a St Joseph’s perspective,” concluded Sherwood, “we’re still 110% committed to advancing this project, working with the city and county.
“So, this project is at a place where it’s never been before and you can get a little bit disappointed by the news, but that is not in our mind.
“It’s just it takes time for these projects to kind of unfold and so we’re not surprised by that. That’s kind of been our experience. It is just continuing to work through the process.”

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It should come as no surprise that council relented Monday (Feb. 10) and unanimously agreed with a new motion to declare a climate emergency in St. Thomas.
Of note, councillors Linda Stevenson and Joan Rymal were absent that night.
With a packed public gallery and a compelling deputation by Doug Walker, the vote was a foregone conclusion.
Doug Walker climate presentationWalker’s presentation was, in fact, prepared by his Chad who is currently based at Exeter University in the U.K.
In urging council to make the declaration and follow up with a tangible plan, said it is time for St. Thomas to join the 1,330 jurisdictions worldwide with a combined population of 810 million.
Walker did note that members of council “do accept that there is a climate change situation going on, but secondly needing to address this climate change.”
Walker continued, “Our submission goes directly to our futures, not just us in this room, but more to our children and grandchildren.
“Failing to take action now will meaningfully harm them. We cannot afford to consider climate change in anything less than an emergency.”
Walker suggested if we had addressed the climate change issue 20 years ago or even as recently as 10 years ago, “we wouldn’t be here but we are now seeking such a declaration.”
With huge consequences for southwestern Ontario, Walker stressed: “Let’s not let future generations question whether we could have done just a little bit more.”
It is time for council to sound an alarm, advised Walker.
This based on a UN report released in October of 2018 that concluded we have 12 years to make deep cuts to our carbon emissions in order to stay between 1.5 and two degrees Celcius rise in global temperatures.
Walker reminded those in attendance that residents of St. Thomas will not be immune from problems created by a warming planet.
“Due to the complexity of climate change, help from all levels of government – from top to bottom – including St. Thomas city council is needed now.”
Walker suggested, “Even in St. Thomas, a move to reducing distances people travel on a daily basis, perhaps using electric vehicles, or muscle power using bikes helps reduce the impact immensely.
“You folks can be heroes. Now is the time to use the many powers that local governments have to protect what is in place, build new communities that are resilient to a more unstable climate and desirable for low-emission lifestyles.”
Declaring a climate emergency, pointed out Walker, “would pave the way for our citizens to shape our own unique low-carbon future.”
Walker made several references to a tangible plan of action – as did most members of council – but the specifics of such a plan obviously will be the subject of much future debate.

“We don’t want to price ourselves out of business. Ontario is a very cost-prohibitive place for businesses.”

In the follow-up discussion later in Monday’s meeting, it was Coun. Gary Clarke who put forth the third motion in less than a year to declare a climate emergency.
It was seconded by Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, who added, “It takes bold community leadership to take action.”
She suggested steps that could be taken would include a no-idling policy for city vehicles and a resolution all new houses have built-in chargers for electric vehicles.
Coun. Steve Peters nailed it with the observation, “We can’t just stop at declaring an emergency . . . it has to be a tangible plan.”
Now, here is where the debate turned interesting, leaving the impression the declaration is nothing more than symbolic.
“All of this is going to cost a lot of money,” suggested Coun. Mark Tinlin.
“When we start doing our budget, the tax rate will have to go up.”
Coun. Jeff Kohler added, “We don’t want to price ourselves out of business. Ontario is a very cost-prohibitive place for businesses.”
He continued, picking up on Coun. Baldwin-Sands’ comment about future houses, “What will happen to the cost of houses in St. Thomas?”
While throwing his support behind the motion, Mayor Joe Preston stressed, “Make sure we understand why we are doing this in a strategic fashion.”


With permanent funding from the province announced last spring, St. Thomas police recently introduced their newest crisis response worker. Yvonne Mawson replaces Alex Patterson, the original crisis response worker who left in December to pursue another career opportunity.
Mawson is a King’s University College grad who studied thanatology, a program that includes an overview of bereavement, palliative care, suicide and grief and trauma.
After a year of social services study at Fanshawe, Mawson joined the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Associaton.

Yvonne Mawson

St. Thomas Police Service crisis support worker Yvonne Mawson with Insp. Hank Zehr.

Upon hearing of Patterson’s departure, Mawson determined a crisis worker with the police service was the obvious career option to pursue.
In her new capacity, Mawson expects to work closely with frontline officers in dealing with mental health issues, particularly the follow-up process.
“I think the idea is to save the police a bit of time,” says Mawson, “because historically, I think they were doing a lot of the follow-up after those calls, and now it’s something where I could take that piece over and make sure that people are then well connected to the right resource and that saves the police time and that person is still supported through the whole process.”
When deployed in a situation, Mawson says the focus will be on the individual in question.
“It’s a lot about the person and just assessing where they’re at in terms of mental health, that they’re sending concerns that are visible. And then just being empathetic, actually listening to the person, figuring out what’s going on for them and how to help.”
“She is the person on the other side of the door helping the police negotiate the barricaded person,” add Tanya Calvert, corporate communications coordinator for the St. Thomas Police Service.
“She is going to be standing on top of the Athletic Park train trestle because we’re up there and she is going to support the officers and take the lead in negotiating those extremely elevated situations back down again.

“She also has an internal component, where it’s not only about the people we serve in the community, but it’s also about our internal staff mental health.”

At that point, Calvert says that is when the importance of having a resource like Mawson is clearly evident.
“Having a crisis mental health work worker here has been pivotal in the warm transfer of crisis situations over to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital or to a worker or whatever the case may be because we have some chronic people that we interact with on a regular basis through the justice system.”
In the process saving the police service valuable time.
“One of the things we do struggle with, and it’s getting better, but we did struggle for years with was having our resources tied up there in the emergency department, waiting our turn in the queue when someone’s in a mental health crisis.
“You need two officers to hold security and then they could be there for four hours. So that then depletes our resources to handle other calls out on the road.”
Equally important is a second consideration in Mawson’s job description, stressed Calvert.
“She also has an internal component, where it’s not only about the people we serve in the community, but it’s also about our internal staff mental health. She’s another resource to support internal staff. Those who may be struggling or feeling off or whatever the case may be, she can help.”
Anxious to get down to business, Mawson is credited with making a memorable first impression with the police service.
“There is no doubt she was going to fit in from the first time we met her,” praised Calvert.

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Monday (Feb. 17) is Family Day and the perfect opportunity to take in a Jr. B St. Thomas Stars hockey game on Fill The Rink Day at the Joe Thornton Community Centre. The Stars will face the Strathroy Rockets, with tickets priced at $5 and $2 for kids 12 and under. Game time is 2 p.m.

And Wednesday (Feb. 17) is Random Acts of Kindness Day, a presentation of myFM. You can drop by Memorial Arena between 11:30 and 1 p.m. to enjoy a free soup lunch, courtesy of Kathy’s Catering.

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