Some of the Services we offer


Hospice Palliative Care is as varied as the faces on this earth. Each patient follows their own journey of life, and therefore must also be allowed to follow their own journey toward death. Palliative Care staff feel privileged to accompany patients and their families. The services offered by the Hospice Palliative Care Society of Cape Breton County are guided by the needs of patients and recommendations from the dedicated palliative care physicians, nurses, social workers and support staff who comprise the team that ensures the delivery of palliative care and services.

An Cala Palliative Care Unit


The An Cala Palliative Care Unit opened in 2008. It is a nine bed acute care unit located on the fourth floor of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital. An Cala is Gaelic for safe harbour – and that is what is found here — a safe haven and a place of comfort. The Society provides computers, Internet access, televisions, a kitchen and family room, along with shower and laundry facilities for families who are staying with a palliative care patient. One family member says she would forget she was in a hospital because An Cala became home to her while she stayed with her husband during his final month. The Society stocks the kitchen with supplies for the volunteers who then create wonderful baked goods such as cookies, tea biscuits and cinnamon rolls. “Cape Bretoners gather in kitchens,” explains one volunteer. “Make it as comfortable as possible with a treat and a cup of tea.” The Society also maintains a library on the unit, with resources on hospice palliative care and also with novels for use by patients and family members.

An Cala staff foster an uplifting atmosphere of tranquility and joy. For them, palliative care means allowing as much laughter as possible into a difficult time. “We celebrate a lot,” laughs Michelle Curtis, the lead Clinical Nurse. “We strive to keep a patient’s quality of life at a maximum.” She says whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, or a quiet Tuesday in February, they find positive aspects of life to celebrate and share with the patients and their families. The Society and the Palliative Care staff work in a remarkable partnership.

An Cala Unit has nine beds, but there are at times more than 200 people in the district receiving palliative care, spread out in other hospital units, in long-term care facilities and in personal homes. Palliative Care staff — nurses, doctors, social workers – travel to where the palliative patients are and provide them with the services and care required.

Home Healthcare Equipment

In particular cases when a patient is receiving palliative care at home, they may require additional equipment to treat their pain and maintain a high quality of life. The Society provides home healthcare equipment free of charge when it is deemed necessary by the palliative care physician or nurse. (When equipment is not available through the Red Cross.) The Society supports a broad based financial assistance fund that is administered through the palliative care social worker and, in exceptional circumstances, provides 24-hour nursing care at home when requested by a physician.

Financial Assistance Fund

The Society provides a financial assistance fund, administered by the Social Work Department, to help alleviate some of the financial burden that occurs in caring for a loved one at home. It is well-known that the cost of medications at home can be quite expensive and under certain circumstances can become an overwhelming concern for palliative care patients and their families. This fund is designed to relieve that additional pressure during an already trying time.

In the past, the Society has used this fund to celebrate weddings and graduations on the unit. In one day the palliative care team literally planned and held a wedding on the unit because the dad of the groom-to-be was likely not going to make the wedding scheduled for months from then. From flowers to a wedding cake to decorations, the were able to piece it all together. “With once again, generous help from the community,” explains Clinical Nurse Michelle Curtis. “The community support this service, because they know it’s for the community.”

The Society also purchased a washer and dryer so that a Mom could stay at home with her children; provide movies and takeout meals for family nights, bring family home from “away”, purchase computers for the unit; purchase bed linens to make a patient more comfortable; and pay rent so a patient could remain at home.

It is about quality of life and the needs are as unique as the patients. The funds exist to make a difference when and where it counts and monies can be made available within 24 hours following a request from someone on the health care team.

Music Therapy Program

support-alternative-therapy-music“When you look at Cape Bretoners, music is so much within them—it’s really deep rooted,” explains Palliative Care Music Therapist Jill Murphy. “We use it all through our life, we sing to our babies, we learn the ABCs by singing, in our adolescence – music is a really strong part of those years, people go out on a weekend, they listen to music. It’s all through our life,” reasons Jill, “so why not use it in death as well.”

The Hospice Palliative Care Society of Cape Breton County funds the music therapy program. “It’s a service they’re not expecting,” says Jill. “Right away I’m not someone coming with needles.” It started five years ago — and the results have been astounding.

“It’s just as important as the medications,” says Alex Storm, whose wife worked with Jill in the music therapy program for months. “It helped put her in another frame of mind.”

Jill says when she enters a patient’s room, she asks a simple question. “Hi, I’m Jill, would you like some music in your room?” Whatever answer the patient gives dictates the rest of the visit. “Often people look at me like, ‘I’m in a hospital, this is really strange’,” Jill laughs. “But when I ask if music helps them relax or makes them feel better in general, then they start to get it.”

For those accepting of the music, she goes through a check list with them to see what kind of music they like or if they play any instruments. Often a nurse or family member will also help with the background information. During this stage of the assessment Jill says she gets a clearer picture of any areas in particular that might need work. “They might have anxiety, need help with communication, they’re not sleeping well, they’re feeling isolated. From those needs,” Jill explains, “I determine goals.” She then puts to use the many aspects of music. For instance, songwriting may be used as a means for communication, singing to enhance mood or listening to music to decrease pain perception.

Another aspect of the music therapy service are Legacy CDs. Jill says she’s made more than a dozen of these so far with patients. They come in various forms. “Palliative care patients often want to give a gift to their family and friends,” says Jill. These CDs become a unique and lasting gift with the patients voice – and sometimes word – forever saved.

The music therapy service helps support the patient’s family as well. Jill says patients’ families often end up singing along during the sessions. Or just sitting back and watching their loved one get such sheer pleasure from singing the songs that served as a soundtrack to their life. “They’re there for all the appointments and waiting in doctors’ offices, they get to enjoy this together.” Jill says husbands and wives often reminisce about the songs – their first dance, their wedding dance or ones popular at family ceilidhs. The music serves as a vehicle that brings with it happy memories, allowing the patient to return to those times – alleviating some of the very real pain.

Jill laughs as she talks about the strange looks she gets when she travels through the hospital with a guitar on her back. But to her, she knows the job is a privilege. “I’m pretty lucky.”

Flower Program

Every Thursday morning a small group of dedicated volunteers gather in the An Cala Board Room at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital to create lovely flower arrangements for all patients in the palliative care service.  “The flower ladies” as they are affectionately known are a group of eight women, who alternate weeks working in two groups of four, started their work in a closet back in 1994. They continue their work today bringing joy and warmth to patients and families with a simple visit and flowers in hand. They are a creative lot, customizing the arrangements to mark special holidays and seasons of the year, delivering the bright floral arrangements with a smile. As with all things offered by the Society, community partners support this important outreach to patients.

Volunteer Program

The Society provides the resources necessary to train palliative care volunteers who then givetheir time in both the hospital, in long-term care facilities and in homes. Our trained volunteers provide companionship and offer short respite for the family or caregiver. The service has about 75 volunteers both male and female. Families interested in using the services of the volunteer program can make a request through any member of the Palliative Care Team. The selection of a volunteer is conducted by considering interests and personalities. When a volunteer is assigned, they generally continue with the same person as long as the patient or family feels they are needed. See here for more information about the Volunteer Program **(make this an active link to the Volunteer bit in the Get Involved section) or contact the Volunteer Coordinator at 567-8160.


The Society funds on-going education for palliative care staff, volunteers and board members. This is a priority so Cape Breton patients can continue to receive the highest level of quality palliative care. The Society allocates funds for representatives to attend all appropriate Canadian palliative care conferences and workshops. The Society also brings in guest speakers to support the palliative care program and organizes workshops. Palliative Care literature is available at the An Cala Unit for patients and families. Past guest speakers have included noted Canadian author and noted hospice advocate June Callwood.

Bereavement Program

The Bereavement Program is available to families and friends of palliative care patients as a support service following the death of a loved one. Bereavement volunteers receive training through the society. They will maintain a relationship with the patients’ next of kin for a year following a patients’ death, to help the family deal with grief when necessary. The Society funds a part-time bereavement councillor. In addition to phone calls, the bereavement councillor will make house calls to family members after their loved one has died. Anna Heron says this service has been invaluable. Her son died last spring. “I really needed someone to talk to.”

A Service of Remembrance is held twice a year to celebrate the life of loved ones who have passed within the six month period. The Hospice Palliative Care Society guides and supports this special program. A sombre, yet up lifting service, remembering the loved ones who have died, and thanking the family and caregivers would helped during their last days, months, years. The name of each person who has died in palliative care during that six month period is read aloud. A solemn ceremony, yet providing comfort and hope to those in attendance. This is another example of palliative care being about much more than just the patient. Months after the patient has passed, this service is provided to aid in the grieving process. Letting families know they are not alone, despite the terror and loneliness they might be feeling in the aftermath of the death of their loved one. The soulful songs by Jenn Sheppard and the Men of the Deeps allow for reflection and comfort. It is a touching and personal time shared by those who have come through a similar experience. An evening for families, friends, staff and volunteers to re-connect with the many people who participated in the journey of those loved ones that have passed. These are held on the first Monday of June and November and families and caregivers are invited to attend.

To support and promote compassionate care for individuals and their loved ones who are living with a life-threatening illness.