A $15,000 donation from the Renfrew County United Way helped fund the position of a new Resident and Family Support counsellor at Hospice Renfrew. On hand for the cheque presentation last week were, from left to right, Hospice Renfrew’s executive-director Maureen Sullivan-Bentz, Resident and Family Support Counsellor Tracey Cummings, Hospice Renfrew’s Manager of Volunteer and Community Development Judy Cobus and Pat Lafreniere, Regional Director of the Renfrew County United Way.

Renfrew — A recent grant awarded by the Renfrew County United Way has paved the way for Hospice Renfrew to hire a new Resident and Family Support councillor to assist residents in their final days, and to help family members prepare for life after the loss of a loved one.

Tracey Cummings joined Hospice Renfrew last month and she brings a wealth of experience in dealing with families at one of the most difficult times of their lives. A graduate of the Human Relations and Spirituality Program from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, she has spent the last four years in Ottawa as Regional Manager with the ALS Society.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity,” Ms. Cummings said. “My background has been in Social Work and palliative care and having worked for the ALS Society the last four years has really helped me gain experience. I spent a lot of time visiting patients and families in their home and now working here at Hospice is really a home setting and I am very comfortable with that.”

Ms. Cummings said although this will be her first time working in a hospice setting, she is confident her background will help both families and residents.

“I had a client who ended up coming here to Renfrew and for him, it was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I actually came here before my patient arrived and took a tour of the facility and I was so impressed on how beautiful it is and the dedication of the staff and volunteers. I wanted to be sure it was a good place for him and it certainly was.”

She describes the hospice as a very warm and home-like setting and it mirrors her previous experience as most of her clients remained in their homes. As regional manager for the ALS Society, she was the front-line worker for the families and some of her territory included Renfrew County and parts of West Carleton.

Along with her counselling services, she also assumed the role of fund development officer for the ALS Society, and she will bring that skill set with her to Hospice Renfrew.

“The majority of my role will be working with the residents and their families one-on-one, but I will also be helping to raise funds for the organization,” she said. “My current position is full-time and I will be here at least until the end of December.”

The ability to bring Ms. Cummings to the hospice is due in large part to the Renfrew County United Way. Pat Lafreniere, Regional Director of the United Way, said it was the first time the agency received an application from Hospice Renfrew.

“This is just an incredible organization and it is used not just by people from Renfrew, but people from all over the county come here in their final days,” she said.

“At the United Way, when we receive applications, we try to determine if the organization or program fits into our mandate of serving an under-serviced or rural setting and builds partnerships with other agencies.”

Ms. Lafreniere said this year the agency distributed $198,000 to 10 recipients and the $15,000 contribution to Hospice Renfrew will definitely fill a need.

“Many of the challenges our residents face in our area is servicing such a big area and transportation is certainly an issue,” she said. “Being able to keep residents in the area by using a service like Hospice Renfrew meets our mandate along with assisting agencies dealing with mental health issues and seniors at risk. Our agency knows that Hospice Renfrew does that and so much more.”

For Ms. Cummings, she said spirituality is a very important aspect in her role as counsellor.

“Spirituality makes up a big part of my approach to having those very tough conversations when somebody is coming to the end of their life,” she said. “For me, this is a great fit. The way I look at it, I would be okay dying in a place like this and so that gives me a greater appreciation when I talk to people at that stage of their life.”

She said Hospice Renfrew has a great reputation for its warmth and supporting people at the end stage of life.

“People have those big picture questions at the end of life and what has my purpose on this earth been,” she continued. “It gets very deep and philosophical for people and I am there to listen and help them.”

She said when she tells people about her role at Hospice Renfrew, they are not sure how to respond. She said quite often people think of a hospice as a depressing and sad place to work.

“I tell people a very simple message,” she said. “I tell them the residents come here to live.”

The Leader, Eganville, Ontario – July 12, 2017
By R. Bruce McIntyre
Staff Writer