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HospiceWits revamp inspired by personal tragedy

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SAUL KAMIONSKY

The relaunch of the totally refurbished HospiceWits in Houghton last Thursday is the realisation of Elin’s dream.

Setting aside her pain and loss, she went all out to refurbish and modernise the establishment she spent so much time in while at her late husband’s bedside.

“My husband was diagnosed with cancer, he had multiple myeloma stage four, and was given a few weeks to live,” Elin says. “But, because of the wonderful support he got from nephrologists and oncologists, he managed to live for three and a half years.

“Throughout the journey, Hospice was by our side. The support it gives to the family, from grief support to counselling to administering medicine, among other things, is unbelievable. It was available 24/7. We wouldn’t have got through this without Hospice.”

A year after her husband passed away, Elin began volunteering at the reception of Hospice once or twice a week. Sitting there, she became more and more determined to change the face of the organisation. “It wasn’t only lifeless, dull, and dirty, it looked like a mortuary and smelt of death,” she says.

Elin envisioned a HospiceWits that would be “like a home away from home for people” who come through the doors. Knowing that people come to Hospice only for sad reasons, she believes the place should be uplifting and hopeful, not depressing.

Her initial attempt to rejuvenate the institution’s bathrooms, starting at the beginning of 2016, ended abruptly with her brother’s cancer diagnosis. He survived to tell the story, fortunately, and it gave Elin new determination to redo the Hospice.

At this point, she realised that her dream wasn’t a one-woman show. She needed a team.

So, she approached her friend, Farrell Berson, a financial advisor, “who is a very generous, wonderful man, and can do the most wonderful things. He’s a perfectionist. He had just finished working on fundraising for the refurbishment of Linksfield Shul.

“I told him, ‘I’ve got this idea. I want you to come with me to Hospice.’ He was appalled at the conditions, became the team leader, and roped in his friend, Saul Haberer, who didn’t need much persuasion.” Haberer is involved in corporate gifts and branding, and loved the idea.

Elin was then introduced to interior designer Lynne Blumberg, “who was in charge of the interior, along with Saul, while Farrell headed up the team and worked tirelessly every day. Besides checking that everything was done, he was in charge of the finances.

“We did this phenomenal project as a team,” says Elin. “Everyone deserves the same recognition because they all contributed” to the newly refurbished in-patient unit.

The organisation now has a tranquil and uplifting atmosphere, with the new wallpaper, painting, flooring, artworks, and furniture brightening the lives of patients, their families, and staff.

“It has made the place 10 000% better,” sister Sally* said at the relaunch. “The patients’ families have been so impressed. Some of the patients have said, ‘Sjoe, it’s a nice place!’ or ‘Is this my room?’. It brings a bit of class and freshness. It’s still family-orientated, and the morale of staff has been lifted.”

The new unit has been designed to offer patients the best integrated palliative care and peace of mind. It also gives them the opportunity to spend as much quality time as possible with their family during the critical stages of their illness in a top-class facility.

It offers ten short-stay rooms and two long-stay rooms if needed. The rooms are spacious and fully equipped, allowing a family member to stay overnight, and include features such as multiple lighting, which has taken patients’ sensitivity into account.

“I’ve had comments that though it’s light, it’s calm and peaceful. That’s very important for our families,” says Heather*, a volunteer.

The communal lounge and balcony provide a homely space for families to spend time together, while two rooms provide a dedicated place for private prayer, meditation, counselling, or spiritual reflection.

“These features create a better environment for Hospice to provide palliative care to patients who are facing health challenges to live their life to the fullest by providing pain management, symptom control, psychological, emotional, and spiritual care,” says HospiceWits Chief Executive Jacqui Kaye.

“The Hospice counsellors are there to hold the patient and their family in the palm of their hand, to comfort them, to make them understand the bigger picture, to give them hope, and know we are going to celebrate their life.”

According to Berson, money was raised from donations from individuals, a contribution from First National Bank, and R80 000 worth of basins and taps. The plumbing was also donated, and they received discounts on furniture.

“What’s possible from a small idea, and a group of community-orientated people who just believe in chesed (kindness), is amazing,” he says.

Because of the renovations, “life has been brought to Hospice”, says HospiceWits board Chairperson Michael Judin. “The greatest gift you can give a human being is hope. That’s what this place does.”

Elin’s labour of love means she won’t hang up her generous gloves just yet. “I’m still involved with Hospice. I’ve just completed its ancillary and dementia course. Hopefully, I’m going to continue working in the in-patient unit on a part-time basis.”

Elin’s advice to anyone battling to overcome the loss of a loved one is, “At the time, you don’t believe you will even get through today. But eventually, you think, ‘How I can change my loss into something positive?’ You understand your sadness and suffering were worthwhile because you’ve grown, and realise that you can help so many others.”

*Sister Sally and Heather asked that their surnames not be used.

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