Central Okanagan Hospice House in Kelowna celebrated its fifth anniversary Friday winning tributes from politicians, staff and most of all from the families of people who have spend their last days there.
“I don’t find this place depressing at all, it’s a warm and beautiful place,” said Randall Paul, whose wife Anita spend the last few weeks of her life there last year before succumbing to breast cancer. He said he stayed with her, slept on a cot and the volunteers and staff at the house could not have made him more welcome.
“Finding a place to live out your last days with dignity and peace should be a fundamental provision of every health care system,” said Paul.
Like others who spoke, Paul paid tribute to the volunteers at the hospice house, who he said were so wonderful to both his wife and himself during such a difficult time .
And, he said, since his wife’s passing he has returned to the house on Ethel Street, to walk in the beautiful garden, which is maintained by volunteers with the Central Okanagan Hospice Association.
The association provides close to 200 volunteers who help the residents in their last days as well as maintain the house and garden.
For Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray, who lead the fundraising drive with Brad Bennett and his wife Bergit that raised more than $3 million in the community towards the cost of building the house, the facility is more than simply project he was helped get off the ground.
Fifteen months after it opened, Gray’s brother was there, living out his last days with cancer.
Gray choked up as he talked about that time during a gathering to celebratethe house’s anniversary on Friday.
Gray said he took on the role as fundraising chairman in 2006 after he lost the Kelowna mayoral election after nine years in the job.
“Looking back, I’m kinda glad that I lost that election because it gave me an opportunity to do one of the most important things I have ever done in my life,” said Gray gesteruring to the building behind him.
He said when he was asked to chair the fundraising campaign, he did not even know what a hospice was.
“I had to look it up in the dictionary.”
But it has turned out to be so much more than he could have ever imagined.
The 24-bed Central Okanagan Hospice House is owned and operated by Interior Health, built on land IH provided which was once part of the estate of former B.C. premier WAC Bennett, Brad Bennett’s grandfather. The house is a partnership between IHA, the Central Okanagan Hospice Association, the Canadian Cancer Foundation, the Central Okanagan Regional Hospital District, and the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation, which each plays, or has played, a part in its foundation and its operation.
During its first five years, it has seen more than 1,800 people come through its doors, each encouraged by the facility to “live until they die” in the quite, comforting, tranquil home-like surroundings of the house.
“But it’s not the wood or glass that makes this place what it is,” said Gray. “It’s the people.”
And on Friday, under a sunny sky, amongst the bright flowers of the impeccably kept garden, it was the people who were praised.
“The staff and volunteers here are loving and compassionate beyond comprehension” said Randall Paul.