The word ‘hospice’ brings to mind an onslaught of powerful images — illness, and pain; but these preconceptions fade away on entering Vitas House.
The spotlessly clean, comfortable environment with modern fittings belies its nature — which is to care for the terminally ill Cancer patients.
Located on the compound of St. James Medical Complex in Trinidad, Vitas House provides free medical and nursing care for its patients, caring for twelve (12) persons at maximum occupancy.
Vitas House began as a dream of Dr. George Laquis, former Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society. Dr. Laquis had a vision to complement the work of the Society, providing support for those who had exhausted all treatments and had a life expectancy of six months or less.
However long or short their stay may be, the role of Vitas House is to provide essential support at this final stage of their life.
A Passion for Care
The staff at Vitas House consists of two doctors, one Registered Nurse (RN), patient care assistants, administrative support staff, and volunteers.
“It would be great to have this kind of service located in other areas of the country, but at this point we simply don’t have the infrastructure in place to expand and maintain a quality service in other areas,” laments Mrs. Mootoo, General Manager at Vitas House.
Although not the island’s first Hospice — Living Water Community has that distinction, Vitas House has recently received congratulatory mention for guiding the training and development of the Palliative Care Unit at Caura Hospital.
Challenges to maintaining quality
Since its opening in 2008, Vitas House has provided end-of-life care for approximately 523 patients.
“This number could have been much more, but we adhere to our referral and admission guidelines,” notes Mrs. Mootoo.
Admittance is determined by a Vitas House Referral Form that must be properly filled out by the patient’s physician, and is then assessed by the Medical staff to determine suitability. This is followed by an interview with the patient’s next of kin.
“We meet with the family, not just to discuss the patient’s needs but also his or her final wishes,” says Mrs. Mootoo.
“While our primary concern is the patient’s comfort, we also want to protect our patients as far as possible. With the dying, there are several matters to consider before one is laid to rest.”
At Vitas House
If your loved one is suitable for the invaluable service provided by Vitas House, here are a few things you would need to know:
- Services are provided completely free, including medical and nursing care.
- Relatives are responsible for supplying medication when the hospice does not have sufficient amounts.
- Toiletries and laundry are also provided by the family.
- Vitas House provides food for patients, and is mindful of dietary restrictions. However, the hospice does not provide food on request. Families are welcomed to bring food and drink for their loved ones if there are particular taste preferences.
- While there are general visiting hours, there are no restrictions for immediate family members, particularly when the patient is very close to the end of their life. It is however preferred that visitors do not come early in the morning when the nursing staff is attending to patients’ hygiene.
- Additional nursing staff is added once the occupancy is beyond seven (7) patients, to ensure that each patient is still able to get the care and individual attention needed.
- If a patient comes in with a short life expectancy, but later improves or becomes stable, he or she can be discharged into the care of loved ones until the need to return arises.
- Any patient can go home for a day or longer once they are strong enough.