Vancouver hospice gets a much-needed facelift

Reprinted from The Vancouver Sun, December 9 2014. Words by Evan Duggan. Photo by Richard Lam.

(From left) Michele Sutherland, Manager of Hospice Services at The Bloom Group; Ian Young, Project Co-Ordinator, Cutler; and Natalie Cutler, Principal and Creative Director, Cutler, in the nursing station of May’s Place hospice. Photograph by: RICHARD LAM , PNG

VANCOUVER — A historic Downtown Eastside hospice that has fallen into disrepair after decades of providing final comforts to many of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents is slated for revitalization thanks to a partnership between The Bloom Group, a non-profit organization in the community, and Cutler interior design.

The Bloom Group created May’s Place hospice more than 20 years ago as Western Canada’s first free-standing hospice and the only palliative care centre in the DTES.

The hospice was named after May Gutteridge, a parishioner at St. James Anglican Church on Cordova Street, who launched the St. James Social Service organization in 1961 (now known as The Bloom Group) with the help of her fellow parishioners. Gutteridge died in 2002, but not before receiving the Order of Canada in 1981 and becoming one of Canada’s most celebrated social workers.

The Bloom Group operates May’s Place in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), providing palliative care for many patients in the community suffering from addictions and mental illness.

While VCH covers the hospice’s clinical budget, management is constantly facing operational constraints and the space has fallen into disrepair.

“May’s Place is going to be 25-years-old next year and most of the funds that we raise go toward the care of people, and support for people,” said Lesley Anderson, the director of resource development and communications for The Bloom Group. “The building has become quite tired.”

Through a partnership with Gastown-based interior design firm Cutler, the plan is for Cutler’s team in January to design new spaces, and to revamp existing areas and furnishings to bring a fresh look to the hospice.

All of the existing wood furnishings in the dining room will be refinished and wood-inspired wallpaper will be added to the surrounding walls. They also plan to add a new audio system to play music during dinner.

The ultimate fundraising goal set by The Bloom Group and Cutler is $30,000. By Monday, they had raised $26,675.

“We’ll also provide a dedicated space for our staff where they can get away from their work for a few minutes, relax and regroup and do some planning work,” Anderson said. “We’ll just make the whole space much more efficient in terms of storage and medical supplies.”

Bloom Group’s manager of hospice services, Michelle Sutherland, said many of the patients are marginalized members of the DTES and many of them were homeless until they came to May’s Place. “They have very poor housing or no housing, and often suffer from mental health and addiction as well as end-of-life diseases.”

The hospice has six beds in which terminal patients usually spend between three and six months, Sutherland said. “We have had, in this year, 85 people come to May’s Place for their end-of-life care.”

The team at Cutler had been looking for a way to donate a service in the community and called on local organizations to submit proposals, said Ian Young, project coordinator for Cutler, which specializes in commercial and retail interior design.

“We live and work in the Gastown-Eastside community and we just wanted to use our skills to give back,” he said. “It’s every businesses’s responsibility to care for the environment in which they’re in and to make it a better place, and not to take away from it.”

He said the staff at Cutler are among the city’s more fortunate residents. “There are a lot of vulnerable and marginalized people in [the DTES] area and a lot of them haven’t experienced the comfort that we have.”

Natalie Cutler, the firm’s principal and creative director, said the renovation plan aims to make the hospice feel less clinical and more like a warm, West Coast home.

“Many residents haven’t had the experience of a home environment in a while, so the idea of bringing that home atmosphere is the goal,” she said, noting that they planned to add “textures” to the interior design, improve the lighting and make the space more functional. “We want to make it feel less like a hospital and more like the home they haven’t had in years.”

Bloom Group’s Sutherland said the revamp will also help to reunite estranged families for many of their patients’ final days and moments. “There are times that we have family that are tying to reconnect with their loved ones to say their goodbyes, and to try to find some peace with what has happened in their lives,” she said. “So we want to have a space where we can allow that to happen.

“I think that for end-of-life, most of the people who we’re dealing with have never had a place where people are taking care of them, where their needs are met, where we are engaged with their families and trying to make their … last few days as respectful and comfortable as possible,” she said. “We’re grateful to Cutler for selecting us.”

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