NORTH BAY -- In the last decade, the demand for palliative care services in North Bay has dramatically increased, with one organization seeing the number of clients jump from dozens to more than 900 in the last year alone.

“When I compare the stats from 10 years ago to what is happening now, we grew 600 per cent in demand and I am not kidding,” said executive director Monica Monni. “Just look, from 18 clients a year to 900 clients a year and we still have more of less the same funding that we have been receiving from the ministry for many years. Which means we have to count on the power of community.”

Monni says with a little bit more annual funding, the organization would be able to reach the entire community.

“If we had $250,000 more a year, we would have capacity at the office to really help train the whole community of Nipissing and East Parry Sound District, which is thousands of people.”

Even with the same funding, the demand for services has been on the rise for several years now, said Lane Macdermid, the Palliative Care Program intern.

“As our organization kind of grows, more health-care service providers are becoming aware of our services so we’ll receive those referrals from them,” he said. “We’ve received more referrals from different health care providers throughout the region, which will in turn increase the numbers of clients we serve.”

Increased demand

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased demand even further and Monni said that's adding even more stress on families.

“COVID multiplied the predictions of the ministry because it, of course, created a new kind of grief -- the grief of being isolated,” said Monni. “We had so many clients that lost their loved ones and could not visit them in the hospitals, in the facilities, so it just compounds … the grief.”

The Near North Palliative Care Network offers a few different options for clients including pairing volunteers with seniors, bereavement services for loved ones, and programs to help increase interaction and relationships. Programming and training is free and the organization relays heavily on the help of volunteers.

“Our volunteers are heroes,” said Monni.

However, with increased demand, more volunteers are needed.

“If we don’t have volunteers, we don’t have an organization,” said volunteer coordinator Alison Wilkes. “They’re integral to the organization … I think we have 80-to-84 active volunteers and maybe a volunteer would take on one or two or maybe even three clients as opposed to one volunteer taking on one client.”

Volunteers can apply through its website and will have to have a police check, referrals and complete training in order to join the team.

Volunteers needed

“As the need increases, I think the need for volunteers is ever increasing,” said Makayla Nowee the Bereavement Program intern. “You know, I don’t think we’ll ever have enough volunteers. So yeah, if anyone’s interested in volunteering we’d always recommend they reach out to us because it’s an ever growing need for sure.”

The organization currently covers all of the Nipissing and the East Parry Sound region.

“I think palliative care in general is a great service for communities,” said Macdermid. “You know, when people are nearing the end of life there’s a lot of tensions and emotions and things going on that go on with that phase of life around them and the family. So to have someone come with a caring heart to support them in that is hugely beneficial for them and they’re so grateful and it’s very meaningful work.”

The Near North Palliative Care Network recently launched a new project with a focus on senior connections to help reduce social isolation, especially during COVID-19. The goal is to hold three online events a week, for now, doing different workshops and activities.

“I think it’s especially important right now, too, because with the COVID everybody is feeling a little more isolated these days,” said project coordinator Francine Leclair. “It’s very important to keep connections with one another and I think this project is a great way to reach out to the seniors and have them interact virtually, because it would be better than no interaction at all.”

The program isn’t up to three days a week just yet, but there are about 60 seniors who have said they are interested in participating.

“Right now I have a book club going on virtually," said Leclair. "It’s every Monday night from 7-to-8 in the evening. I’ve done a mindfulness event where I had a guest speaker and we did medication together. Things like that.”

The idea is for this project to continue after COVID-19.

“I think that the importance of social connection, it makes you feel like you belong somewhere and it’s family oriented and it just brings you together,” said Leclair. “It’s togetherness.”