Last year on Christmas Day, there were 152 patients in the Ross Memorial Hospital, including 35 in continuing care, 15 in rehabilitation, 12 in mental health, 88 in acute care and 2 newborns. And 17 people were admitted into the Ross on that day. As on most any other day at any hospital, there were heart-wrenching stories too: Sadly, two patients passed away that same day.
To care for all of these people and their visiting families, 189 people worked at the Ross last Christmas Day.
Think about that. That’s 189 families in our community whose Christmas’ have been changed or in some cases delayed so that another 152 families in our community can be cared for. And that number does not include volunteers — who donate their time and labour to make Christmas at the Ross a little brighter.
Mary Jones has been volunteering at the Ross since 2006. She helps in the Reflections Café and can often be found there on Christmas Day. “To me, if I’m here and my family is not always available – my children are scattered – then why not do it? Because nothing is open. I don’t mind. It’s not a big deal. I would rather give up my time. It’s really such a joy seeing people – patients and families. They’re so appreciative,” explains Jones.
Medical staff at the Ross do everything in their power to try to get patients home for Christmas, if only for a day. According to Kim Coulter, coordinator of employee & community relations
Ross Memorial Hospital and RMH Foundation, “as patients regain their strength and become medically stable, extra efforts are made to get them back home to be with their loved ones during the holiday. If they’re not well enough, we try to arrange safe visits home so they can be part of family gatherings, even if it’s only for a few hours.” In some cases this involves staff going the extra mile, helping patients do their hair and get dressed up “so they feel good attending their family events,” adds Coulter.
That extra effort starts way before Christmas Day though. In early December, each department starts to decorate their areas with wreaths, garland and Christmas trees. And visitors to the hospital can’t miss the giant tree in the main lobby as well as the three Foundation trees that display messages sent from donors with their gifts to the Foundation’s Holiday Appeal.
“As it gets closer to Christmas, the employees and volunteers make even greater efforts to make things festive for patients, right down to the food delivered to patients on Christmas Day: a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Families that choose to come into the hospital to spend Christmas Day with a patient can arrange to pay to have Christmas dinner with their loved one, served from the RMH Kitchen,” explains Coulter.
The Therapeutic Recreation team joins in making Christmas special for patients by helping them make crafts and paint scarves for gifts for their families. “They can also help patients to write cards and letters to their loved ones. [And] every year, Santa and his elves visit the patients in the Continuing Care Unit and hand out gift bags which contain small presents purchased by the RMH Auxiliary,” adds Coulter.
Working over the holidays is just part of the job at the hospital. As Emma Elley, director of human resources explains, “We have language in all three union contracts that set out that staff will either work Christmas or New Year. The purpose of the provisions in the collective agreements is to be able to create equitable schedules over the holiday period and seek to grant all staff a minimum of five consecutive days off at either Christmas or New Year, except in areas that are not normally required to work on weekends and paid holidays.”
Nonetheless, working over Christmas still requires sacrifice on behalf of employees and families. As emergency department nurse Samantha (Sam) Howard explains, “Being a shift worker, my family has always known never to book Christmas celebrations before I get my schedule. Christmas may happen on the 23, the 28, or some years we’re lucky enough to get together on the 25th. Being a mom of three small children, it’s important for me to be home when Santa comes Christmas morning. Luckily, staff members whose children are older, or don’t have any children, are usually able to do switches with us who would like to be home with our children. Whether it’s Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, somehow we manage to pull together as a team to help each other out.
“The biggest challenge working Christmas is being away from my husband and children. Not being able to soak up every minute of the holiday is hard, especially when you can’t make it to dinners and special family traditions due to work. There’s also no time to relax or have any downtime, you’re either at work or busy squeezing in as many Christmas celebrations as possible while you’re off. It’s also challenging seeing people sick who can’t be home with their own families. We deal with a vulnerable population in the emergency department, and people tend to be very sick if they’re coming in on Christmas. It’s hard enough being here working, but it would be even worse being sick over the holidays,” says Howard.
The dedication of the Ross staff, especially at Christmas does shine through every year. Explains Howard, “As difficult as it is being away from our own families at Christmas, it’s a special time of year to be at work caring for those who can’t be at home. There’s a special feeling in the air. I enjoy spending the holiday with my ‘work family’ and there’s usually lots of goodies around – added bonus!”
And it’s during the holiday season when the local community gets to make a difference at the Ross — on Christmas day and throughout the year, by giving to the annual Holiday Appeal. According to Erin Coons, executive director of the RMH Foundation, “The RMH Foundation is fortunate to have the support of generous donors throughout the City of Kawartha Lakes and beyond, who appreciate the ongoing equipment needs at the Hospital, and dedicate their year-end giving to support local patient care. The Foundation’s Holiday Appeal is mailed to every household in the City of Kawartha Lakes in late November/early December. This annual fundraiser is very important for the Hospital, as it raises between $175,000 and $200,000 for vital equipment needs each year. This winter, ‘The Greatest Gifts’ Holiday Appeal will support the purchase of advanced X-ray equipment that will transform the way care is provided in the Diagnostic Imaging Department. At the Ross Memorial Hospital, we count donor support among our greatest gifts.”
As Coulter says, “The hospital is fortunate to have the kindest, caring staff and volunteers who go to great lengths to help patients and families make the most of their time together, even during difficult times.”