It was the height of COVID and at Canberra Hospital in Ward 9B, acting clinical development nurse Harriet McIntosh had an elderly patient in palliative care.
While he was able to have family visits during his care on compassionate grounds, the COVID-19 situation meant it was not possible for everyone to be there at the time. As he approached his last days, Harriet used items from something called an “end-of-life box” to create mementos for his loved ones.
“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it helped make an awful situation more human,” she said.
“We often care for people in the most difficult situations they face, so anything that helps us make it even just a little easier, we’re very grateful for.”
Depending on the patient, end-of-life boxes can include anything from low-light candles to fingerprint kits and knitted blankets – things to help make memories or increase patient comfort.
They are among the many smaller “day-to-day” Canberra Hospital Foundation initiatives to support more holistic patient care and increase staff well-being.
The Foundation’s contributions to Ward 9B include access to the Paws the Pressure program, an initiative that brings in volunteer Delta Therapy Dog Teams to reduce stress and boost morale.
Harriet said during COVID, the cuddles helped many, and the Delta Therapy Dogs have visited numerous times since then for staff and patients alike.
“Our therapy dog Trixie recently came out again to visit our brain-injured patients. We sometimes have therapy dogs visit the ICU, oncology and geriatric wards,” Danniele said.
“Lots of studies have shown pet therapy can reduce anxiety and loneliness. This is important because many patients can be admitted for a long time or are far from home.”
More recently, the ward secured Foundation funding for a “diversional mural” to be painted over the main doors to the unit.
Clinical nurse consultant Danniele Hunter who, along with Harriet, is the driving force behind many of the Foundation-funded Ward 9B initiatives, said once again the reasoning for this was evidence-based.
“It’s based on evidence in dementia units and so forth – patients who don’t want to be in hospital and can get frustrated and agitated,” she explained.
“Not only does it look gorgeous because we’re looking at getting wildflower scenes in cool, calming colours, but it also camouflages those main doors, so those patients don’t get fixated on them.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking of for a while, which we believe will benefit our patients and staff, but these things can be quite expensive.
“Fortunately for us, the Foundation has been fantastic, granting us the funds and allowing us to go that extra mile to do something that will benefit the patients, their families and our staff.”
About 600,000 people access Canberra Health Services each year, with up to 30 per cent from surrounding regions.
The Foundation dispenses up to $1 million in funding annually towards specialised medical equipment and funding important medical research, therapeutic patient programs and hospital refurbishments.
The Foundation relies entirely on donations, philanthropy and fundraising efforts in the community, including its annual Christmas Appeal. Funds raised go directly into initiatives that enhance the patient experience and increase staff well-being.
Danniele said she hoped to see “that Canberra generosity” come out in force for the Appeal, which is currently running.
“Support for the Foundation is essentially support for hospital staff trying to go above and beyond to make things easier for people who are sometimes going through their darkest days,” she said.
“It’s never a ‘good’ time to be in hospital, but I think we can all agree it can be especially hard at Christmas,” she said.
“If we can provide some small measure of kindness for a patient at this time, it makes a big difference.”
The Canberra Hospital Foundation Christmas Appeal is now on – visit the website to donate online.