Hospices often have a reputation for being somewhere a person goes to die and that has caused many in society to be slightly wary of them.
However, a hospice is not just a building but a philosophy of palliative care ranging from physical to emotional well-being for people with life limiting illnesses and their families.
To help people understand this and alleviate fears about hospices there has been a push to put them in the heart of the community in New Zealand, and globally.
Franklin Hospice chief executive Ric Odom said its recent future strategic planning has included a focus on ensuring the hospice is a welcoming place for everybody in the community not just patients and their families.
“We want the way forward to be really community based.
“Community is really important to us. The hospice is part of the community and the community is part of us.”
They want to make the hospice a place where people can come and ask questions and feel comfortable to remove some of the fear of death.
“We’re all going to die, it’s inevitable,” he said.
“We are trying to make the journey positive and change attitudes, death is not something we can avoid so let’s just do the best we can.”
Hospices support people with life limiting illnesses to live better in the time they have got and this works best if the whole community is involved, he said.
“The whole being part of the community is really important, not just for patients but also family.
“It has nothing necessarily to do with illness but helping [patients] live every moment a bit more and we want the wider community to be part of that.
“The whole idea of hospices being a place for people to go to die, that’s not it at all.”
Mary Potter Hospice director of fundraising, marketing and communications Philippa Sellens said it is important for a hospice to have connection to the wider community for a number of reasons.
“Mary Potter Hospice works very hard to be at the heart of its communities.
“We rely on the community to fund our services (the government pays only half) so we have many, many connections with volunteers, donors, shoppers and other health partners.”
The hospice also runs a number of workshops for anyone to attend on topics such as writing a will, cooking for one and financial planning.
“We recently ran a session for young Māori who performed poetry and rap on grief and loss.”
Doing these things for the community helps people understand dying, loss and bereavement which is something that should be done throughout people’s lives not just when they or a loved one is sick or dying.
“It often is the case that people are uncomfortable with the idea of hospices, for some it’s a cultural thing. That’s why we have a Pasifika liaison.
“If you come into a hospice with a terminal illness it doesn’t mean you are going to die as soon as you walk in the door.”
Hospice New Zealand communications and sponsorship advisor Rachel Wilson said hospices around the country offer many opportunities for their communities to come into the hospice in a non-patient related way.
For example open days or using the facilities for training and activities – most hospices have meeting spaces which they sometimes make available for the community.
“People do find the hospice building daunting and often have an impression before they visit – coming before actually needing services can demonstrate the reality of what hospice is and what it offers.”
One example of a hospice creating a connection with non-patients is Totara Hospice’s youth ambassador programme which sees local teens develop a relationship with the hospice service – mainly working in awareness and fundraising, with the goal of developing their skills and also their knowledge and understanding of hospice services, she said.
Death cafes have also become a popular way in New Zealand and overseas to increase awareness of death and to help people make the most of their lives by allowing open and agenda-free conversations on the topic of death over tea and cake.
The informal group Compassionate Communities Network is also gaining momentum in New Zealand and Australia which aims to promote and integrate social approaches to dying, death and bereavement in the everyday life of individuals and communities