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Frequently Asked Questions

Hospice Northwest and Hospice Care FAQ

Is Hospice Northwest a residential hospice with palliative care beds?
No, it is not. The word “hospice,” is a term that is often associated with an organization that runs a facility with beds, where people go to die. However, the word “hospice” is also a philosophy of care. The term hospice includes ideas and attitudes that direct and manage the care of the dying while offering support to families. Currently, there is no free-standing residential hospice in Thunder Bay.
Is Hospice Northwest a part of the St. Joseph’s Care Group?
No, Hospice Northwest is an independent, not-for-profit agency separate from St. Joseph’s Care Group. Even though Hospice Northwest works with St. Joseph’s Care Group, and our volunteers visit patients on the St. Joseph’s Hospital hospice unit and the long-term care homes they operate, we are NOT the same organization.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is a type of health care for patients and families facing a life-limiting illness. Palliative care helps patients achieve the best possible quality of life right up until the end of life.

Palliative care does not end when someone has died. Family members often need support as they grieve the loss of a loved one. Bereavement programs are offered in combination with palliative care.

What is hospice care?
The term hospice care refers to palliative care provided in a homelike setting. Hospice care can be provided in an individual’s home, hospice facility like St. Joseph’s Hospital hospice unit, or in a residential hospice licensed to provide palliative care. Thunder Bay does not currently have a residential hospice.
Is there a difference between palliative care, hospice care, and end-of-life care?
In Canada, palliative care and hospice care share the same principles. While palliative care programs were developed primarily within larger health care institutions, hospice care programs were developed as community volunteer based organizations.

End-of-life care refers to services provided to patients who are in the final stages of advanced life-limiting illness.

What is the difference between curative care and palliative care?
Curative care involves treatment to cure or eradicate disease. Palliative care occurs when a cure is no longer possible. Palliative care provides symptom management designed to improve the person’s comfort and quality of life.
Does Hospice Northwest receive government or other ongoing funding?
Hospice Northwest is partially funded by the North West Local Health Integration Network and the United Way of Thunder Bay. These two funders make up about 50% of our annual budget.
Does Hospice Northwest rely on fundraising for any of their operating cost?
Yes, because only 50% of the budget is provided by the North West Local Health Integration Network and the United Way of Thunder Bay, we rely substantially on the generosity of community donors. Memorial donations and fundraising initiatives are necessary for us to continue to offer our programs and services.
What is Hospice Northwest's annual budget and how is the money used?
The annual budget changes from year to year. All financial information regarding operational costs of Hospice Northwest can be found in our AGM report, which is available here. All of our budget is put towards administering our programs and services, recruiting, training, supporting and coordinating volunteers, processing client referrals, matching volunteers and clients, and managing client services.
Does Hospice Northwest only offer palliative care services in the City of Thunder Bay?
Hospice Northwest has satellite offices located in the District of Thunder Bay, in Nipigon, Terrace Bay/Schreiber, Marathon, Geraldton, and Manitouwadge. Services in those communities are delivered through partnerships with hospitals and family health teams.

Questions about volunteering with Hospice Northwest

What does a Hospice Northwest volunteer do?
Hospice Northwest volunteers provide support to people who are at the end of life in the client’s home, hospital or long-term care facility. The role of the hospice volunteer is determined by the needs of the individual client and their family members. Hospice Northwest volunteers also offer support to people who are grieving.
Can anyone become a Hospice Northwest volunteer?
Anyone 18 years or older can apply to become a Hospice Northwest volunteer. We welcome adults of all ages, ethnic origins or religious backgrounds who possess sensitivity, compassion, good communication skills and a desire to help others.
How do I apply to become a Hospice Northwest volunteer?
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you are required to fill out a volunteer application form either online, on our website or in person at our office located at 63 Carrie Street. If your application is accepted, our Manager of Client and Volunteer Services will notify you.
Additional Hospice Northwest volunteer requirements
Volunteers must be:

  • able to maintain confidentiality
  • at least 18 years of age
  • willing to complete a Police Record Check, which includes a Vulnerable Sector Check (PVSC). The results will determine eligibility
  • able to provide 2 personal references
  • willing to complete the training program
  • able to commit a period of time to hospice volunteering (e.g., 3 hours per week for at least one year) following completion of training
  • available to meet with Hospice Northwest staff on an ongoing basis for support, supervision and education purposes
  • a compassionate ‘people person’ who is non-judgmental, accepting, self-confident and sensitive to others’ needs
Why do I have to go through such rigorous screening to become a hospice volunteer?
Because most of our clients are ill and often elderly, we need to ensure that their safety is our number one priority. Rigorous screening measures are required by our governing bodies to ensure clients are never put at risk.
I have a criminal record. Can I still volunteer with Hospice Northwest?
We recommend that you discuss the criminal charge with the Manager of Client and Volunteer Services when you apply. Your situation will be kept in strict confidence and will be carefully considered by staff. Your eligibility will be determined on an individual basis, considering the type of charge, the length of time that has passed since the charge occurred, and the type of volunteering you are interested in. Once a decision has been made about your eligibility, the Manager of Client and Volunteer Services will inform you of the decision.
What kind of training will I receive if I am accepted into Hospice Northwest’s volunteer training program?
Once accepted into the volunteer training program, each volunteer completes a 36 hour provincially mandated training course endorsed by Hospice Palliative Care Ontario, which is delivered by a richly diverse group of local community professionals. The volunteer training program is designed to cover all aspects of a dying person’s experience so that hospice volunteers can fully empathize and support their clients effectively. The Manager of Client and Volunteer Services will contact successful applicants to let them know the dates of the training, which is usually held annually in the fall.
How many people attend each hospice volunteer training program?
Hospice Northwest usually has 30-40 people who attend our annual hospice volunteer training program.
Where is the hospice volunteer training held?
The location for hospice volunteer training depends on various factors, including the availability of space. Previous locations have included the North West CCAC and Trinity United Church. Training is video conferenced to our Regional Offices, which have been equipped with video conferencing technology. Successful candidates for the program will be notified and informed of the training location by the Manager of Client and Volunteer Services and District Program Coordinators.
Do I need to have knowledge of death and dying, or have experienced the loss of a family member or friend to be a good hospice volunteer?
Most volunteers have experienced the death of a loved one and want to help others going through that experience. But this is not required; good hospice volunteers will develop this knowledge through training and their natural compassion and desire to help.
How much time per week will I need to volunteer?
After training, hospice volunteers must sign a commitment agreement that states they will be available for up to three hours per week.
Where will my volunteer work take place? Will I be able to choose the location myself?
Hospice Northwest volunteers visit wherever the client is living. Locations could be a private residence, long-term care facility or hospital. Our volunteers usually travel to the client’s home. Your location preference will be considered when you are matched with your client.
Is there a fee that I have to pay to attend the hospice volunteer training program?
The fee for the hospice volunteer training course is $100.00. This fee will be reimbursed to those who continue as Hospice Northwest volunteers after they graduate.
Is the hospice volunteer work emotionally draining?
The work of a hospice volunteer is demanding but rewarding. We strive to make the essential human experience of death and loss less frightening through a holistic approach that enhances people’s dignity, self-worth and sense of connectedness.
What do Hospice Northwest volunteer duties include?
Some of the things a Hospice Northwest volunteer can do to help their clients include:

  • offering active listening and non-judgmental acceptance of the client’s journey
  • being an advocate for their client to ensure he/she receives optimal care
  • assisting the individual and family to achieve meaning and satisfaction at this difficult time
  • relieving caregivers
  • complementing the role of family members
  • providing practical assistance with shopping, making phone calls, writing letters, getting to appointments and outings in the community
  • offering comforting activities such as reading, music and playing cards
  • providing bedside support
As a palliative care volunteer, will I be expected to help with fundraising?
Hospice Northwest has several fundraisers throughout the year, and often our volunteers are invited to participate in various ways. Many volunteers enjoy coming out for events such as the Hike for Hospice and lending their support to these important activities as part of our Hospice Northwest team, but participation is always voluntary.
Can I volunteer only for fundraising, special events or administrative work?
Yes, you can contact the office and sign up as a non-palliative care volunteer. These volunteers do not need to attend the volunteer training program.
Will my travel costs be reimbursed?
Hospice volunteers are usually matched with clients who live nearby so that we can keep the cost of travel down to a minimum. Volunteers are asked to donate the costs of travel and are issued a charitable donation receipt.
If I have recently lost a loved one, can I still become a hospice volunteer?
Hospice Northwest volunteers are required to wait a minimum of one year after the death of an immediate family member or loved one before they begin visiting their first client.
I'm not sure I'm ready to become a hospice volunteer. Who would I talk with to discuss my suitability?
Our Manager of Client and Volunteer Services will be happy to meet with you to discuss your suitability and answer any questions you might have.
Will I have to administer any medications to my clients as a hospice volunteer?
No. Hospice Northwest volunteers do not administer medications or perform any nursing duties.
What happens if I take the training, but then decide I’m not suited to being a Hospice Northwest volunteer?
While we hope to retain as many trainees as possible, we do understand that being a hospice volunteer may not be a perfect fit for everyone that completes the training course. When you sign up for the training, you are required to pay a $100 training fee, which we will retain if you are not able to complete your one-year commitment to us. We also believe the training you receive will never be wasted, as you will have gained skills and information that you will find useful in your personal life.
How many hospice volunteers does Hospice Northwest have?
The number of hospice volunteers changes from year to year, but the count is usually around 250. We have approximately 180 hospice volunteers in Thunder Bay and approximately 70 volunteers providing support in the District.  
I live outside the city of Thunder Bay. Can I still become a hospice volunteer?
Hospice Northwest volunteers reside in outlying areas of Thunder Bay, as well as in the communities of Longlac, Geraldton, Schreiber and Terrace Bay, Marathon, Manitouwadge and Nipigon. Volunteers are matched with clients in the same area to keep travel to a minimum.
How important is the role of the hospice volunteer in a person’s end of life journey?
Hospice Northwest volunteers are an important part of a dying person’s palliative care team. Teams can include their family physician, specialists, nurses, CCAC case coordinator, spiritual advisor, dietician, social worker, etc. Hospice volunteers take on the role of a compassionate, confidential listener, which is something the clinical team members are often unable to provide.
Once I complete the hospice volunteer training, when will I meet my first client?
A post-training interview will be scheduled with the Manager of Client and Volunteer Services or District Program Coordinator. During that time, you will discuss your schedule and preferences, and then you will be matched with a client. Even though we try to place available volunteers with clients in a timely fashion, it may take weeks or months to place you with a client depending on the referrals we receive.
What kind of support will I receive from Hospice Northwest as I begin my hospice volunteering?
The staff of Hospice Northwest will provide emotional support, guidance and resources to assist you in all aspects of your role. Our goal is to retain satisfied volunteers who feel connected to our agency and wish to continue to use and develop their skills.

Frequent questions we receive from clients and family members about getting services from Hospice Northwest

Do I need to get a referral for Hospice Northwest services from my physician or another health care provider?
No, referrals to Hospice Northwest can come from anyone – from the person who is ill, a family member, friend, or from anyone else who believes the service might be appropriate – providing the person being referred for service is aware of and consents to the referral. Online referrals are available.
Will I have to pay for any of the services I receive from Hospice Northwest?
Hospice Northwest’s palliative care services and grief and bereavement programs and services are offered at no cost to the individual. Because there are costs involved in providing these services, Hospice Northwest puts on fundraising events to help subsidize our operating costs. Our clients and their families are invited to support our events.
Does Hospice Northwest provide palliative services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
The staff of Hospice Northwest tries to achieve a balance between the needs of the volunteer and those of the client and family. If a volunteer is willing and a family is in need, overnight support may be requested, but it is not a service that is regularly offered.
I'm afraid that if I request palliative care services from Hospice Northwest, it means that I have given up, and I will die soon. Does death come sooner when someone starts receiving palliative care?
Hospice palliative care is not just for the final days or months of life. It’s a holistic approach that includes pain and symptom management, hospice caregiver support, spiritual care, bereavement and much more. While it is commonly used at end-of-life, it by no means indicates the patient will die soon. In fact, hospice services often improve and enrich the quality of a person’s life.
Are there any services or support available for me as a caregiver to my family member who is dying? How does hospice help caregivers?
Hospice Northwest volunteers offer emotional support for caregivers, whether the dying family member is or isn’t one of our clients. We also offer respite support so that you can take some time away from the tasks of caregiving, knowing that someone will be present in your home with your loved one while you are away.
Does Hospice Northwest offer any services for me after my family members dies?
Yes, our Grief and Bereavement services include confidential one-to-one support for up to six months and a therapeutic six-week grief support group offered three to four times per year.
Does Hospice Northwest provide any other community resources or hospice education?
Yes, Hospice Northwest offers a lending library full of helpful hospice resources open to the public, community educational events such as Die-alogues, and much more.
Does the person receiving Hospice Northwest’s palliative care services need to be in the hospice unit at St Joseph’s Hospital to qualify for support?
No, Hospice Northwest provides support wherever the individual is currently living. This may include their home, long-term care facility or a hospital. The Hospice Northwest volunteer will usually follow the individual even when their location changes. This helps provide continued care through the client’s end of life journey.
Does Hospice Northwest only offer palliative care support to seniors?
No, our programs and services are available to anyone who requires them, regardless of age. Our volunteers have provided companionship and care to young children with terminal illnesses, teens struggling with grief after a loss and adults of all ages who require support.  
Are only those people with a cancer diagnosis eligible for Hospice Northwest palliative care services?
No, Hospice Northwest provides support to individuals who have a prognosis of one year or less, regardless of diagnosis.
Is Hospice Northwest affiliated with any religious organizations?
No, we respect all faiths, and when clients need specific types of spiritual support, we often call upon clergy to help.
Can Hospice Northwest volunteers help me care for my loved one at home and help me plan for my loved one to die at home?
Yes, Hospice Northwest volunteers are usually part of the home care team that provides palliative care at home to a person who chooses to die at home.
When should a family member consider contacting Hospice Northwest?
The sooner the family is connected to Hospice Northwest, the sooner they will have access to the palliative care support of our agency and a carefully matched volunteer. Contact may be made for support from office staff before a client is ready to be matched with a hospice volunteer.