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The Diane Morrison Hospice

What is The Diane Morrison Hospice?

The Diane Morrison Hospice is a partnership between The Ottawa Mission and Ottawa Inner City Health. The facility is in a 3 storey building adjoined to the main shelter but with its own door at 53 Daly Street. It provides palliative care to 14 terminally ill people who are homeless or street involved. The program serves men and women and is committed to welcoming everyone who is homeless and in need of end of life care.

In 2013, the Hospice was re-named after Diane Morrison, the long time Executive Director of The Ottawa Mission. Morrison was instrumental in creating the Hospice and upon her retirement the Mission’s Board of Directors honored her legacy by calling it the Diane Morrison Hospice.

Who is Eligible for Admission at The Mission’s Diane Morrison Hospice?

  • Those who are homeless or street involved can be accepted for admission if they are living with a terminal illness which is progressing rapidly.
  • Those who need assistance in managing pain or other symptoms associated with a terminal illness
  • Those with a terminal illness who are unable to access ‘mainstream’ palliative care due to behaviour or lifestyle.

The intent of the Hospice program is to provide a safe home where people can live well for their remaining days and die pain-free and with dignity. The Ottawa Mission provides all aspects of housing, transportation and spiritual care. Ottawa Inner City Health oversees the medical care that is needed. It provides clients with the equivalent of a home and a family so they can access palliative care services like others in the community.

Many of the staff who work at the Hospice are employees of Carefor (formerly VON Ottawa), an agency which is renowned for its expertise in palliative care. A palliative care nurse specialist coordinates all aspects of care for the clients and supervises the work of the client care workers. Physicians and nurse practitioners from Ottawa Inner City Health and/or the client’s own family doctor and specialists provide the medical care required in each case. Palliative care services are also available through the Community Care Access Centre which includes visits from physiotherapists and occupational therapists. The Mobile Pain and Symptom Management Team from the Elizabeth Bruyère Health Centre provide expert consultations to assist with complex symptoms.

Volunteers at the Hospice are overseen by The Mission’s Volunteer Manager and their roles may include reading to individuals, playing games or cards or taking someone for a walk.

Clients’ biological and street families and friends are welcome to help with care. We also have access to spiritual caregivers from all religious denominations and the aboriginal community.

How does the Mission Hospice differ from mainstream Palliative Care facilities?

The palliative care services at the Diane Morrison Hospice are the same as those provided to everyone else in Ottawa. However, unlike other Hospice facilities, clients can receive palliative care and still receive treatment for other problems. The goal of admission can be to provide end of life care but clients can also be admitted for a short stay to improve their health sufficiently to return to their independent housing or street life.

The program recognizes that life on the street is very unhealthy and that this reality has a negative impact on life expectancy. As a result, clients who are admitted because they appear to be close to the end of life may regain their health when they are housed, fed and cared for. Instead of focusing only on end of life care, the Mission Hospice Program attempts to improve the quality of life, life expectancy and function for those living with a terminal condition.

The Program ascribes to a harm reduction philosophy. Clients are not required to abstain from using drugs or alcohol to receive services, provided that their behaviour does not pose a risk to anyone else. The staff attempt as much as possible to help the clients control their substance use without imposing conditions which make care in accessible.

The philosophy of the program is that substance use is like any other disease and therefore the staff has an obligation to help the client manage their disease. Clients may not engage in illegal activities on the premises. Many of the clients in the Diane Morrison Hospice also live with mental illness or challenging behaviours.  The facility sets modest expectations for behaviour, is respectful of street culture and allows clients to die in a familiar setting.

Our goal is to provide the best quality of life possible for our clients for the days that remain for them. This means providing an atmosphere that is safe, secure and respectful. The program also provides an alternate to hospital care and saves the healthcare system an estimated $50,000 per person.

We encourage our clients to continue to live well and spend time with friends and family.  Some of them have told us that their time in the Hospice was the happiest and most comfortable time in their lives. The Diane Morrison Hospice also provides support in end of life planning when clients feel ready to address these issues. Clients who wish to die at the Hospice can do so surrounded by those who care about them. A service is held for each individual to provide a chance for their community to mourn and comfort each other. The program does more than simply take care of the dying. It has strengthened our community and brought meaning and dignity to the end of life for a group of people who desperately need and deserve it.