The idea for Neshama Hospice originated from conversations between Robert Kamen and Debbie Berlin, both of whom worked in acute care hospitals. As they discussed some of the challenges faced by families when confronted with life-limiting illness and the too-frequent occurrence of people dying in acute care beds in overcrowded intensive care units, Debbie and Rob began dreaming of creating a new hospice. As their conversations evolved and their discussions expanded to include others, the idea of creating a hospice built on Jewish values began to take hold.
Debbie reached out to Lisa Charendoff, associate director of community stakeholder relations at SickKids Foundation, who introduced Debbie and Rob to palliative care physician Dr. Sandy Buchman. Sandy had been involved in palliative care for many years and was well aware of the growing shortage of hospice beds in Toronto. Together, Debbie, Rob and Sandy envisioned a hospice that would focus on the whole person, and address not only their physical needs at end of life, but their emotional and spiritual needs in equal measure, as informed by the person’s wishes at end of life. To reflect this, they named their new initiative Neshama, the Hebrew word for soul, spirit, the essence of the person, and formed the Neshama Hospice leadership team.
2015 – 2016
Other volunteers joined the Neshama Hospice initiative, including a rabbi with a focus on palliative care and chaplaincy, an architect, a finance professional, a fundraising consultant and other community leaders. The project began to build momentum as the team consulted with other hospices and hospitals, as well as the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and all three levels of government. Saint Elizabeth Health Care granted seed funding to mount a fundraising campaign and hire a project manager, and the initiative continued to take shape.
In February, the Ontario government confirmed that a brand new hospice for compassionate end-of-life care would be established in the Central LHIN, and committed up to $2 million in capital funding for the facility. The team at Neshama Hospice identified and purchased three contiguous properties in the Bathurst and Wilson area, which together provide a relatively secluded site in a vibrant, established residential neighbourhood. In fall 2018, the new Ontario government recommitted to the initiative. The team focussed on planning, acquiring permits and determining community needs as it looked forward to breaking ground.
2019 and beyond
In addition to being a hospice residence, Neshama Hospice will be a Centre of Excellence and provide exceptional, family-centred and community-based palliative services including outreach, bereavement counselling for families, and wellness services. All services will focus on relief of suffering and improving the quality of life for persons who are living with a life-limiting health condition. Neshama Hospice will also support inter-professional training and development to enhance palliative care system capacity aligned with the provincial Palliative and End of Life Strategy.