Misconceptions about hospice care

By Sophie Bond

Up until late last year, Marie Witehira-Strickland knew little about hospices. Now the Manurewa woman praises Totara Hospice for the care her dying father received and the ongoing support her family's still receiving.

Marie's father Charlie Witehira died 11 weeks ago but Marie still comes regularly to the hospice for grief counselling. She says she has built up a great rapport with counsellor Barbara Wright (pictured with Maree at bottom of page). "She's been a big part of my life and what my family has gone through."

Mr Witehira came to the hospice in February after a two-year battle with renal failure, during which time Marie and her mother Glenda (pictured with Charlie below) shared his care and a district nurse working for Totara Hospice would visit twice a week.

"My dad was a hard worker who never took a day off work in his life and it was so hard for us to see him sick."

Marie says it was a blessing to move her father to the hospice for the last week of his life.

"We all felt that the nurses here looking after Dad were like angels doing God's work down here on Earth. The way they looked after him was amazing."

"They made us feel at home and the room they gave us was big enough to fit in a Maori family."

She says complete nursing care meant the family could focus on enjoying their time with Mr Witehira.

"We got talking to the other families and the same thing came through: the support was there, day and night."

After Mr Witehira passed away, Marie started receiving counselling through the hospice and says she's been inspired to help out.

"I keep thinking that I want to be able to volunteer here, even if it means vacuum cleaning. I just feel ashamed that the Government doesn't help out more because without hospice where can people go? Everything is free and that's the amazing thing."

Totara Hospice communications and marketing manager Mary Brown says the hospice has 106 staff members including doctors, nurses and counsellors. More than 600 volunteers pick up the rest of the workload, offering services from driving and gardening to home visits and working in the retail shop.Work is under way on a $6.75 million extension, funded from the reserves of the operating trust. This will more than double the number of beds and the first wing will open on February 2013.

"We need to return those reserves through fundraising," says Ms Brown. "So on top of the $2.8 million we need from the community each year for operating costs we now need another $6.75 million."

Ms Brown says about 60 per cent of Totara's funding comes from the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

Twenty per cent of the shortfall comes from the hospice shops and the rest from various fundraising activities, trusts and foundations.

"When we go from nine to 21 beds we will still receive the same amount of funding from the DHB. Our need for what the community can give us will dramatically increase."

Every year the Ministry of Health puts a sum towards palliative care. This is divided among DHBs and some comes through to hospices. In the last financial year Totara Hospice received $3.99m funding from the Counties Manukau District Health Board. A spokesperson for the board says in 2009 the Ministry of Health provided additional funding via the health board to increase hospice funding to 70 per cent of its operational costs.

Ms Brown explains that it is against hospice philosophy to pass on any costs of running the service to patients and their families.

"A family's distress does not need to be compounded by financial worries. Family support is an extension of our services. No one should go through the journey alone, and that goes for a family of two or of 20."

Next week is Hospice Week and all around New Zealand there will be fundraising activities and collections to help meet the $30 million needed annually to keep the service running.


In the financial year 2010/11 Totara Hospice:

Cared for 741 community patients

Admitted 394 patients to Totara House

Received more than 780 patient referrals

Made more than 10,000 community nursing visits

Managed an average monthly caseload of 400 patients


There are 10 hospices around Auckland. They are:

Hospice Waiheke Homecare; Hibiscus Hospice, Whangaparaoa; Hospice North Shore, Takapuna; Amitabha Hospice, Avondale; Mercy Hospice Auckland, Ponsonby; Hospice West Auckland, Te Atatu; Warkworth Wellsford Hospice, Warkworth; Franklin Hospice, Pukekohe; Totara Hospice South Auckland, Manurewa; Dove House, Eastern Bays Hospice, Glendowie

For information, see www.hospice.org.nz                       


On Mother's Day, Hospice West Auckland will remember mothers who have died by planting memorial kahikatea trees at CUE Haven at South Kaipara Harbour.

Planting takes place on Sunday, May 13, 2.30-3.30pm, gumboots recommended. There will be activities for children. For more information, contact Hospice West Auckland social care manager Trish Fleming on (09) 834 9754.


Totara Hospice is running a photo competition that represents "Living Every Moment", Hospice's maxim.

Entrants (in various age groups) have the chance to be one of 13 chosen to have their photograph published in the 2013 calendar. (Pictured at left is an entry by Rosemary Abel.) For details on the rules and prizes see hospice.co.nz/photocomp


- The Aucklander

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