“Hospice is a community effort,” says Hospice Whanganui chief executive Davene Vroon.
Less than 50 per cent of the local organisation’s funding is provided through the Whanganui DHB, the rest has to come from the community through donations, bequests and fundraising.
This week is Hospice Appeal Week and funding is a real, important, urgent matter.
“We are going through some transition, and change is always challenging,” says Davene. “We have to be so nimble now, as organisations. We have to constantly swerve because we don’t know what the next external challenge is that is coming at us. There is so little we can control in that now.”
She says challenges have to be met and circumstances allowed for while still being true to the ethos and purpose of Hospice.
“It is still about providing an excellent service to the patient and their whanau: that is the thing that always drives us, that’s always at the centre. Despite all the stuff we need to figure out, what is it that we need to do and become in order to provide the kind of service to that patient that I would want for my mum or my dad.
“How do we adjust ourselves in a changing world to be the best for them?”
Davene says the challenges for all hospices nationwide are similar.
“In a local context, on average we see about 350 patients a year, but every one of those 350 touch the lives of so many others. This is one of the great privileges of working in Hospice: this is an organisation that truly touches the lives of thousands in the community every year.
“Sometimes I feel there is a perception that Hospice is about this building and the five beds up here in St Johns Hill, when, in fact, most of our patients are in the community. When you talk to a patient and their whanau and you ask them, ‘What do you want from your care? What are your wishes?’ More often than not, it is to stay at home in a familiar environment, with friends and whanau around us, and retain a level of independence.”
It then becomes the job of Hospice to supply the resources and care to make that possible.
“On any given day, we would see about 70 patients … and by far the majority of them are being cared for by our doctors, nurses, social workers and whanau support staff in their homes.
“From a funding perspective, the reality is that it is probably costing us 20 to 25 per cent more in expenses, to do what we do, than it did a few years ago … but our funding base hasn’t risen to match that. Covid has had a huge and devastating impact on our service …”
Every year, Hospice Whanganui has to raise $1.6 million from the local community, and a lot of that has to come from Hospice op shops. At the moment, they are doing it tough as customers stay away.
“We are getting awesome donations from people and we’re so grateful for that support, but, at the same time, the retail sector is down.” The shops fund the everyday operational costs of the organisation. “They are fundamental to our ability to provide a service. If they suffer, we suffer.”
At the same time, Hospice has had to cancel all its normal fundraising initiatives.
“Our commitment to the community remains strong, and this place [Hospice] is the community’s through many years of fundraising and support.”
Hospice has about 200 volunteers across all its operations. Even the Hospice gardens are maintained to an exceptionally high standard by a team of volunteer gardeners.
“We are going to continue to provide the best specialist palliative service because this community deserves it.”
That means finding ways to deliver the service more efficiently as costs rise and funding sources dwindle. Hospice Whanganui has developed a partnership with Arohanui Hospice in Palmerston North in which they share staffing resources — two of their specialist palliative care doctors work in Whanganui for two days a week.
The fact remains that palliative care is underfunded in this country, or certainly not funded in a sustainable way, says Davene.
“This is an essential service for our community … roughly, a third of all people who die in New Zealand access the Hospice service, and half of our service is funded by charity and community support. There’s something not right about the model and I think the Government is starting to recognise that. It is not appropriate for the services we are asked to provide and want to provide.”
This story was originally published in the Whanganui Chronicle.