Op-Ed: “No one should die alone”

By Jonathan Oldman, Executive Director, The Bloom Group

No one should die alone, but that is exactly what happened to one senior citizen last week in a Vancouver Tim Horton’s restaurant. Sitting at his favourite corner table, as he had for many previous visits, Ted rested his head and at some point over many hours unnoticed, passed away.

Ted’s situation drew national and international attention to the growing number of homeless seniors in one of the world’s most expensive cities. What struck me immediately about the coverage, however, was the absence of focus on the issue of end-of-life care for someone who was homeless and was reported to have had cancer.

After I tweeted this perspective, the story was taken up by CBC and I was able to raise awareness of the issue on both local radio and television.

At May’s Place Hospice, part of The Bloom Group, our staff are well accustomed to supporting patients with a range of barriers that include homelessness, addictions, and mental health challenges. We understand these challenges don’t disappear with an end-of life diagnosis and helping to manage them is an essential part of the care that we’ve provided for over three decades.

When we’re able to build on the relationships patients have had with our services or other community programs and support them into hospice, we are able to ensure they receive the same end-of-life care available to anyone else.

Even though we don’t know the specifics of his case, or the choices he might have made, stories like Ted’s remind us that for all those we successfully reach, others are still not accessing care in a timely or effective way. It’s a real part of Vancouver’s homeless and housing crisis.

Ironically recent research published just last month highlights these issues. It reminds us that much work needs still needs to be done, particularly in building trusting relationships with vulnerable individuals, ensuring training across the community, and ensuring the different elements of our care systems are well connected.

There are different service options within a successful palliative care system. As a hospice provider, our goal is to work with our partners to make sure everyone in our community has timely access to the right care for them, wherever that is. Only then will we have fulfilled our mission.

If you’re concerned about someone you know or see in the community, please follow your instincts. In a gentle, respectful, and non-alarming way try to talk to them (here’s a good description of how to approach someone on the street). If they are non-responsive, call 911.

For access to local palliative care services in Vancouver, call (604) 263-7255, or feel free to reach out to one of our staff for guidance. Please visit www.thebloomgroup.org/our-work/hospice for more information.

Everyone at The Bloom Group offers their condolences to Ted’s family, his friends, and those who knew him in the community.