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St. Joseph's Health Centre Toronto

$11.6 million gift to fund state-of-the-art Lake House Palliative Care Centre

Hans Koehle’s first introduction to St. Joseph’s Health Centre was 60 years ago ­– and he never forgot it.

A moment of bravado in his 20s – he dove into Lake Ontario at the Toronto Sailing and Canoe Club to retrieve a piece of jewelry a young woman dropped – left him with several broken bones in his neck and a long recovery in hospital. It was the pre-Medicare era and Koehle had no health insurance and no means to pay for his weeks-long stay. Still, the hospital staff told him not to worry about money and he wasn’t discharged until making a full recovery.

On Tuesday, Koehle was applauded for paying it forward, with one of the largest donations St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation has ever received.

And while she wasn’t there to be feted on this occasion, hospital staff were thinking of Koehle’s late wife, Audree, who inspired the donation that will build the Lake House Palliative Care Centre.

Audree received great care from St. Joseph’s but felt there was always more that could be done to support palliative patients and their families at their most difficult time,” said Koehle. “She had a strong desire to support palliative care in the community.”

Hans, Audree and their three children all visited St. Joseph’s over the years. Before Audree died in 2015, she expressed a wish to support other patients and families who would have to go through the emotional process of seeking palliative care. Through conversations with the St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation and medical staff – and several other patient family advisors – the vision for the Lake House Palliative Care Centre was formed.

The centre will include 10 private rooms in a renovated 15,000-square-foot area of the hospital that overlooks Lake Ontario.  A comfortable setting with sitting rooms, a kitchen and a library will evoke the charms of a cottage or lake house, while also providing solace and support to patients who are facing life’s end.

Koehle’s donation is believed to be among the largest gifts in Canadian history to a palliative care centre.

“We’ll be able to look after people who need palliative care in the kind of peaceful and compassionate surroundings that you want to have with your family in the final stage of your life,” said Dr. Graham Berlyne, medical director for St. Joseph’s Medicine and Seniors Care program.

“It gives us the proper environment to deliver first-class care to the patients and the families and to de-hospitalize it as much as we can.”

Lake House will also feature an outpatient clinic for those who don’t require hospitalization but need support to manage their symptoms, such as help with pain management, fluids to keep hydrated or assistance with breathing. Patients will access the clinic directly without having to visit the Emergency Department.

“Lake House’s outpatient services will empower patients to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. It provides them with choice,” Berlyne said. “When they come in, they’ll receive care in a dedicated setting with enough time to see to their needs. We can do it in a less crowded and hurried setting. And it will help us attract new palliative staff and physicians and retain them.”

In addition to supporting the new palliative centre, additional funds from the donation will be allocated for other critical priorities at St. Joseph’s.

“We’re celebrating one of the largest gifts in our history,” said Maria Dyck, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation. “A family that received life-altering care at St. Joe’s is now leaving a tremendous legacy to ensure our neighbours receive the end-of-life care they deserve.”

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