Caring for the dying with an open heart

Tracy Lowe promised she would try to be there the day the resident passed away.

Tracy starts her day reviewing updates of each resident’s condition from the evening and night shifts.

She kept her promise, standing at the resident's bedside as the family grieved the loss of a mother, sister and wife. They dressed her in a traditional Japanese kimono, complete with a wig, makeup and painted fingernails.

The family stayed all day—the tradition at Covenant Care’s Dulcina Hospice in Calgary is to allow the family as much time as possible to say their goodbyes. It was a day Tracy remembers well.

“At Dulcina Hospice, we believe it’s as important to be present at the end of someone’s life as it is to be at someone’s birth,” says Tracy, a Resident Assistant at Dulcina. “I work here because hospice care is my passion.”

Tracy is one of 24 part-time Dulcina Hospice resident assistants who provide end-of-life care for 26 residents. Her days typically start at 6:45 a.m.

Tracy performs comfort rounds getting to know each resident on the hospice unit, such as Howard Staley, making them feel as comfortable as possible.

Her first task is to attend a meeting called morning report, where she gets information on all 26 residents. “We review what’s happened overnight, ask what’s new with the resident’s condition and discuss our plan of care for the upcoming shift,” says Tracy, who works as an integral member of a team of resident assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. 

After attending the meeting, Tracy starts on comfort rounds. These happen every 30 minutes or one hour; it’s a chance for staff to attend to residents' needs and get to know the residents on a personal level. She also tries to support the needs of families of residents enabling choice, dignity, privacy, respect and individuality. 

“It’s important to build a bond with families from the very beginning of someone’s care in our hospice,” says Tracy. “We consider a resident’s family as part of our team.”

Tracy serves lunch to one of 26 residents at Dulcina Hospice, a Covenant Care site in Calgary.

On a weekly basis, Tracy will attend “interprofessional rounds” with the rest of the Dulcina Hospice care team. This includes their social worker, chaplain and physicians, among others. This time provides an opportunity to discuss each resident thoroughly; examine their physical, mental, social and spiritual needs; and search for ways to make them comfortable.

After helping serve lunch to residents, Tracy starts her afternoons by attending to residents' overall physical needs such as emptying catheters, repositioning, providing mouth care, and so on. She will also complete her paperwork. 

In her final round before she leaves for the day, Tracy will go to each resident and say her final goodbyes to the residents she cares for, update the oncoming shift with any condition changes and then get into her car and drive off for another day.

Tracy consults with co-worker Vicki Martin, Licensed Practical Nurse, on a resident who requires specific medications.

Tracy stresses that while it’s important to complete the tasks every day in her job, her real job is to do what she can to make the resident feel happy—whether that’s singing to them, talking with them or providing a needed hug. 

“My heart is here; I apply kindness and love to everything I do,” says Tracy.

In memory of the woman who passed away earlier that day, Tracy smiles as she points to the memory table. It is decorated with flowers and beautiful Japanese origami to honour the resident.  

A memory table dedicated to a resident who has recently passed away is one way Dulcina Hospice honours a person’s end-of-life journey.

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