Specialized beds provide comfort at end of life

At six-foot-two and nearly 200 pounds, Roy Hanson struggled to fit comfortably in a standard-sized hospital bed.

Weakened from the cancer that had waged a punishing assault throughout his body, the 86-year-old entered Covenant Health’s Carmel Hospice to spend his final days. There, his family was relieved to see he was able to stretch out in bed, a comfort that he fully appreciated, recalls his widow Dianne Hanson.

“He was so happy that he could be in that bed because he was tall. He was so aware of the bed. He said, ‘This is 100 per cent better than the hospital bed.’”

But this wasn’t just any bed. Led by Dr. Anthony Jeraj, physicians at Carmel Hospice in St. Joseph’s Home donated funds to purchase the special computerized bed in honour of a patient who wasn’t comfortable in a regular bed. Many hospice patients need a special mattress to reduce their pain, and the one purchased by Anthony and his colleagues allows patients of all shapes and sizes to shift positions more easily. Its larger design also makes it easier to safely move and care for patients, and the technology enhancements include support for calling for assistance.

When Roy died on Nov. 2, 2020, Dianne wanted to do something to show her gratitude for the care her husband had received at the Medicine Hat site. Remembering the specialized bed that helped her husband, she and her two children — Rick Hanson and Linda Weber — came together to donate two more beds.

“I wanted others to be comfortable like Roy was,” says Dianne.

Describing them as “Cadillac beds” for patients, site administrator Ryan Wiest says the beds, which cost about $20,000 each, are another way the team can support end-of-life patients. “They’re all good beds, no matter what, but this bed is something else.”

And that comfort is essential, says Anthony.

“That’s the priority in palliative care, to make sure people are treated well and feel good and comfortable,” says Anthony, medical director for the hospice.

Roy was in the hospice for just nine days, and Dianne says the family was grateful they were able to stay by his side. “We stayed around the clock with him, taking turns. He had such good care there.”

Dianne and Roy Hanson

Just a few months before his death, Roy was injured in a fall while working in the family’s home garage. Hospital physicians treated him for a fractured hip. Soon after, tests revealed that inoperable cancer had spread throughout his body. Dianne describes her husband of 64 years as a strong man who’d worked until he was aged 74 before selling his partnership in Cee Gee Earthmoving construction to his son and son-in-law, Gene, who have since retired.

In hospital for weeks following his collapse, Roy kept his knees slightly bent because his legs were too long for the standard hospital frame, says Dianne. “He could never stretch out in a smaller bed,” she says. That memory stayed with the family when Roy entered hospice care, and they saw his comfort at being able to move easily in the specialized bed.

Anthony says he knows patients will benefit from the Hanson family’s generous gift. 

“I was over the moon that the first bed precipitated two more beds. It was amazing.”

Tracy Sopkow, CEO of Covenant Foundation, says specific gifts often have special meaning for those who are giving.

“Donors who have experienced first-hand the impact of Covenant’s care tell us it brings them peace of mind and even a greater sense of purpose to help ensure care for others in their community.”

Dianne is not yet ready to see the beds in the hospice, but she finds comfort in knowing that her family’s gift is helping others. And she believes their donation would have the approval of Roy, who was a big believer in helping community.

“He was always happy to support community. He would have been happy about the beds,” she says.

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