Calgary pediatric hospice discharging all respite patients, redeploying staff to children’s hospital

The Rotary Flames House, a pediatric hospice in Calgary, is temporarily pausing its services and discharging all respite patients to redeploy staff to Alberta Children’s Hospital, CBC News has learned.

Surge in respiratory illness results in need for more hospital staff, AHS says

The Rotary Flames House, a pediatric hospice in Calgary, is temporarily pausing its services and discharging all its respite patients to redeploy staff to Alberta Children's Hospital.

The Rotary Flames House provides palliative, respite and end-of-life care for pediatric patients, as well as grief support for parents.

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), staff at the Rotary Flames House are being redeployed to the children's hospital due to a respiratory viruses surge. The hospital is seeing high numbers of patients requiring care in its emergency, inpatient and pediatric intensive care units.

About 20 full-time staff and "a number of casual employees" will be redeployed from the Flames House to the children's hospital, AHS said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Jeff Presswood, a Calgary father, said he was devastated after hearing the Rotary Flames House was putting its respite care services on hold.

Presswood is the primary caregiver for his 14-year-old son, who is severely disabled and needs 24/7 care. Presswood and his family were looking to visit their daughter, who lives out of the country, this Christmas. But they had to cancel those plans after losing the respite care they usually rely on from the Rotary Flames House.

"I spent my day crying yesterday. It's just such a blow," Presswood said.

"This is a big deal for our family to lose this. We don't have any other respite."

AHS said it aims to discharge all respite patients at the Rotary Flames House by Dec. 6. About seven families use the house's respite services each week, according to AHS. All other services provided at the house will be temporarily moved to the children's hospital.

In October, the Calgary Flames Foundation gave the house a $1.25-million donation over the next five years in support of respite and end-of-life care.

Prioritizing acutely ill kids

Margaret Fullerton, a registered nurse and senior operating officer at the children's hospital, said although it was a difficult decision to redeploy the Rotary Flames House staff, the hospital's priority is caring for acutely ill children.

"The patients that require respite are very medically fragile, we know, but they're medically stable and they don't require the acute hospitalization like what we're seeing with acute care," Fullerton said.

"We want to tell [families] how sorry we are that we had to make this decision, that we hope that it's a short period of time, that we'll rebook their respite care."

Fullerton said she could not give an exact date for when respite services may resume at the Rotary Flames House as it depends on when the respiratory illness surge subsides.

In an emailed statement, AHS said it would do its "best to resume this important [respite] service as soon as possible."

'We are here for you'

Fullerton said regardless of the strain on the health-care system, families should still come to the Children's Hospital emergency if their child is very sick with any illness.

"We are here for you," she said.

As for Presswood, he said he greatly appreciates the work of medical staff at the Rotary Flames House and Alberta Children's Hospital and does not blame them for the pause in respite services.

But he is frustrated that the strain on the health-care system has led to negative consequences for so many families like his.

"This is what it's come to that we're stripping nurses away from these kids," he said.

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