Delivering comfort on wheels


The first thing Carol Peck does when she arrives for her shift at North York General Hospital is to make sure her cart is stocked with supplies. As a volunteer with the hospital’s Freeman Centre for the Advancement of Palliative Care, Carol visits patients and families and brings with her a comfort cart, filled with items to help break the ice and provide social interaction.

The Freeman Centre recently introduced volunteers who help enrich the patient and caregiver experience by offering support and engagement. The comfort cart, funded entirely through a donation made to the North York General Foundation, demonstrates the hospital’s culture of Patient- and Family-Centred Care.

During a typical shift, volunteers visit patient rooms with items such as care journals, magazines, books, playing cards, music, crossword puzzle/Sudoku books, board games, hand lotion, and nail polish. The items they distribute through the comfort cart help patients and families to pass the time they spend in hospital, provide a fun and entertaining distraction to the heavy weight that serious illness can bring, and show patients and families that the team truly cares about the quality of their hospital stay. If a patient is not in their room when the volunteer visits, they leave a “Sorry We Missed You” card. It has contact information letting them know a volunteer will return if they wish. 

"As volunteers, we also benefit from the time we spend with patients and families as we join them on their journey,” says Carol. “We’ve received positive feedback about the care journals we distribute from the cart, which allow patients and their caregivers to document daily thoughts, appointments, medications and who’s on their care team. We also have music that brings relaxation and enjoyment to the patients. It’s rewarding to see patients and families listening to music together and deriving joy from the experience."

This year, Shana Haberman, Project Coordinator for the Freeman Centre, was recognized with a Patricia Mackey Patient- and Family-Centred Care Education Award, through the North York General Foundation. A seed grant from the award will support expansion of the palliative care volunteer program and make the comfort cart available to more units across the hospital where the volunteers visit.

Pat (Patricia) Mackey was one of North York General's inaugural Patient and Family Advisors and helped the hospital to establish its initial goals and vision of providing truly patient-centred care. The award was established in Pat’s name by her family and friends, as a tribute to her following her passing in 2014 from breast cancer.

“We know that little things can go a long way for patients and families who are living with serious illness. The inspiration for the comfort cart came from Pat, who received care at the Freeman Centre when her cancer recurred,” says Shana. “She generously shared her time, candid thoughts and observations, on video, of what it is like to live with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Pat wanted patients and families to know that palliative care is about finding energy and joy in your day, not focusing on the illness. Our hope is that the comfort cart will help patients and families do this.”

Palliative care is provided to patients who are living with advanced serious illness and their loved ones. The focus is on providing patients with relief from the symptoms and stresses of a serious illness — whatever the diagnosis. Since fall 2018, palliative care volunteers have provided attentive, empathetic conversation and emotional support for patients, their families and caregivers. They have received specialized training to meet the unique needs of patients and families receiving palliative care in hospital.

According to Shana, providing high-quality medical care is a clear priority at NYGH. She also recognizes that small moments often make a big difference to patients and families.

“Whether it's a friendly face in the corridor providing directions, a warm greeting when a meal tray is delivered or a volunteer offering a fresh coat of nail polish to a patient living with advanced serious illness, patients and families will feel that their care is enhanced through these experiences.”  

This article first appeared in the November 2019 issue of The Pulse.

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