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Dr. Jerry Farrell, Medical Director of Palliative Care,
Pictou County Health Authority

From storage room to the realization of a dream

Most people walk by a storage area and see just that – a storage area. Not Dr. Gerry Farrell. The former family doctor and now Medical Director of Palliative Care with Pictou County Health Authority, didn’t see a storage area at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow when he walked by. Instead, he envisioned a warm and welcoming place where palliative care patients and their families could go for treatment and support. This was in 2004. 

Two years later, Dr. Farrell’s vision was realized when the former storage area was transformed into the first specially designed, dedicated palliative care unit in Nova Scotia.

The first step in realizing his vision was to put in place the care delivery team – an interprofessional team that has become the model for the province. Dr. Farrell knows how to care for cancer patients and those who, regardless of their disease, are at the end of their lives because he has been doing it for so many years. He works closely with the medical oncologists who come monthly to the Aberdeen Hospital as part of the Satellite Oncology Services, all the while maintaining his position as Medical Director of Palliative Care for Pictou County Health Authority.

It was for this vision and its realization that Dr. Farrell was honoured with the CCNS Innovation Excellence Award for his groundbreaking work in palliative care. The award is one of four established by Cancer Care Nova Scotia to mark the organization’s tenth anniversary. 

Dr. Farrell is quick to point out that while this award sits on his mantle, it belongs to all those people in hospital, the health authority and the community who worked so tirelessly to turn a storage area into an acute palliative care unit.

“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers,” says Dr. Farrell, “but this award is not really for me. It’s for the team.”

While Dr. Farrell is very humble, he clearly inspired the team – and the community. “Dr. Farrell had a dream and he worked tirelessly with others who shared his dream to bring a wonderful facility and service to fruition,” says Cathie Watson, Nurse Manager, Cancer Care and Support Services, Pictou County Health Authority.

Together the team created a special palliative care unit for patients and their families. They also raised all the money needed to build and furnish the unit. “It was an amazing project,” says Dr. Farrell. “We developed a campaign strategy and within three months had raised more than $1 million. Our original goal was $700,000.”

Dr. Farrell and his colleagues approached the Board of Pictou County Health Authority (PCHA) to make a contribution on behalf of the public, and $300,000 from parking revenue was contributed to the initiative as a result. The remainder of the money came from businesses and other supporters. “It was the easiest campaign I’ve ever been involved in,” said Dr. Farrell.

It was easy because Dr. Farrell’s enthusiasm and can-do attitude was contagious and people willingly stepped forward to help. “Dr. Farrell influenced community members, local service clubs, local businesses, PCHA administration, physicians, other health professionals, patients,  families, designers and the construction industry to collaborate on and to guide the growth of the palliative care unit from the inception of an idea/dream to a fully functioning, busy unit that is now a showcase unit on a national level,” says Cathie.

The result of that campaign is being felt by palliative care patients and their families today. The unit helps patients who need to be in hospital for shorter periods of time for treatment before returning home, when possible. That treatment is provided in a very un-hospital like environment.

“We wanted to build a unit that was as homey as possible and as accessible as possible,” says Dr. Farrell. 

There are six, tastefully furnished, private patient bedrooms with wheelchair accessible en suites and medical equipment discretely stored in wall cabinets. There is also a family room with a full-service kitchen and lounge area — all the comforts of home with all the supports of a hospital. “We see the huge difference it makes in caring for people and their families,” says Dr. Farrell.

The intent, he notes, is to accommodate families. “That is the future of palliative care.”