In Canada, more than 60% of people will require palliative care in their lifetime. Whether it’s due to illnesses like heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, or cancer, the need for extended care and support from family members and healthcare professionals is paramount.

Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life, managing pain/distressing symptoms, and providing support for those with life-limiting illnesses to maintain dignity and quality of life.

At SHN, we aim to ensure everyone has access to palliative care based on their wishes and offer this care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether patients choose to receive care at home, in the hospital, or hospice, SHN’s Rowntree Palliative Care Centre provides reassurance, comfort, dignity, and security for those receiving end-of-life care or life-limiting illnesses.

Stephanie Russo, RPN

As a palliative care nurse, Stephanie shares her unique perspective on the multifaceted world of palliative care.

“My work allows me to provide education, comfort, and support to families, and engage in early intervention with patients,” says Stephanie. “Our program at SHN stands out for its integral role within the hospital’s ecosystem and the passionate individuals it attracts. I’ve worked in previous organizations where palliative care was seen as an afterthought, or maybe even part of a larger unit. Here at SHN, the Rowntree Palliative Care Centre is a core part of the care we provide and just as important as other areas.”

“Here in palliative care, we all are extremely passionate about the work we do,” continues Stephanie. “It’s so nice to know there are people and donors who recognize the importance of the work we do and that there’s such a need for it. Everyone should be entitled to compassionate, dignified palliative care if they need it. This donation not only allows for that, but it helps change preconceived notions of what palliative care is – it’s not just for those who are at end-of-life, but also those who have life-limiting illnesses and need extra support. It’s really about quality of life.”

Stephanie’s journey into nursing, particularly palliative care, was inspired by witnessing the profound impact nurses had on her best friend’s battle with cancer when they were young.

“I was an audio engineer originally, and when I saw my best friend battle cancer three times, I knew I had a higher calling,” she says. “I thought I’d be an oncology nurse at first but fell in love when I did my palliative rotation. To go into a patient’s room and immediately establish a human connection with them and their families, it brought me so much joy. I also grew up in Scarborough, so it was amazing to come back and care for the community.”

Tharsika – Palliative Care Nurse

 As a Palliative Care Nurse, Tharsika’s days are deeply intertwined with the delicate balance of medical expertise and compassionate care. Her role involves speaking with patients and families to identify their goals, both present and future, with the understanding that care needs change. This unique position requires ongoing collaboration with not only the interdisciplinary team in the hospital but also in the community, to ensure smooth transitions from hospital to home or a care facility. 

“I knew I wanted to work in palliative care ever since I volunteered at a hospice before entering nursing school,” says Tharsika. “After accumulating valuable experience in palliative care as a bedside nurse for six years following graduation, I was ready for a change. That’s when I saw an opportunity at SHN, and I truly believe it is where I need to be right now.”

“I’ve lived in Scarborough since 2005, so to be here and serve its unique patient population is comforting,” says Tharsika, who came to SHN in November 2023. The uniqueness of the Rowntree Palliative Care Centre lies in its reflection of the vibrant and diverse community they serve.

“Coming from the downtown core I rarely had to speak Tamil, but now I speak it regularly!” says Tharsika.  As a second-generation immigrant herself, Tharsika has found a connection with many patients and their families, navigating the complexities of cultural dynamics in illness. Her ability to communicate in Tamil has bridged gaps, fostering a sense of home and understanding that is invaluable in care.

Often the question “Does this mean I’m/they’re dying?” is the first one patients or families ask when Tharsika’s team is referred, and the association of palliative care and end-of-life is one she is passionate about changing.  As a palliative care nurse, Tharsika can be involved in the care of any patient with a terminal illness, as an advocate in every sense, ensuring patients’ voices are heard and care is tailored to not just their medical needs but their life goals.

“I have been blown away by the culture here at SHN,” reflects Tharsika. “I can tell that everyone pours their heart and soul into the care. And it’s incredibly humbling to know that donors like the Rowntree’s recognize how vital our work is and want to ensure it’s available for anyone and everyone who needs it.”

SHN Foundation is tremendously grateful for the Rowntrees generous gift. Click here to view the entire gift announcement that appeared in the Globe & Mail.