Connecting during COVID Takes Creativity and Caring

Funding from ECF helps Pilgrims Hospice Society finds new ways to connect with their clients during the pandemic

Isolation resulting from the pandemic has weighed heavily on many. For those with a life-threatening or life-limiting illness, the weight of isolation can feel overwhelming.

The Pilgrims Hospice Society provides compassionate care to individuals with a progressive, life-threatening illness and support to those who are grieving. A pillar of Pilgrims Hospice is the Society’s Day Program; a program that runs three days a week to provide social interaction for clients, and respite and peace of mind for their caregivers.

When COVID-19 hit, the program’s suspension caused clients and their caregivers to feel the harsh impact.

“For the clients themselves, that means social isolation, which for many of them can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and unfortunately, for many of them, that means a worsening of their physical symptoms, and also a speeding up of their cognitive decline,” says Gillian Bennett, the Day Program Recreation Therapist for Pilgrims Hospice Society.

However, Pilgrims Hospice refused to give up on supporting their clients. In July 2020, Pilgrims received a $4,400 grant through Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to adapt their programming.

“Ensuring that the patients and caregivers continue to receive as much support as possible during their stay at Pilgrims is important,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “We are happy to help Pilgrims continue their excellent work caring for their patients and their patients’ families during this incredibly difficult time.”

Thanks to the funding, Pilgrims Hospice found alternative ways to stay connected and provide support. One way is through delivering themed care packages.

“As soon as they get these packages, they call us and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much. You just brightened my whole day, just to know that someone out there was still thinking about me and cared about me,’” says Bennett.

Bennett explains that the care packages are designed to improve their clients’ mental well-being as well as their cognitive function through activity workbooks. Pilgrims Hospice has also been able to support their clients’ caregivers through modified in-person visits, providing a small break from their increased responsibilities.

Diana Foy and her husband Jim enjoy weekly visits from Bennett, as Jim is a client of Pilgrims Hospice. For Foy, Bennett’s visits provide much more than just a few hours of care.

“You have no idea how much it means to Jim and me to have you visit on a weekly basis,” Foy writes to Bennett. “We are very grateful to have met you through Pilgrims Hospice … We all felt the loss when it had to close through COVID-19. Thank you so much for offering to be with Jim for a couple of hours each week. He is excited to spend time with you, he thinks the world of you and I am so appreciative of getting some respite. It definitely is a win-win situation.”

Bennett says Pilgrims Hospice prides itself on providing quality activities and resources. She says that without the support of ECF, the modified, quality programs wouldn’t be possible.

“The [funding] is absolutely essential. And thank you so much, personally, from me, for allowing me to continue to support our clients this way, and it is making a difference for them in their lives,” she adds.

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.