Children’s hospice set for March opening, needs to fundraise final $900,000

Beach Mirror by Joanna Lavoie

It was an exciting evening last Thursday in Riverdale as dozens of supporters gathered to celebrate the upcoming opening of Emily’s House, Toronto’s first children’s hospice.

After seven years, the pediatric palliative care facility is set to open its doors at the end of March.

“This evening is a demonstration of people who care about children and families they haven’t even met who are dealing with terminal illness. You truly are paving the way for something very special in this city,” said Rauni Salminen, executive director of the Philip Aziz Centre (PAC) for Hospice Care, the 80-volunteer strong, non-profit organization behind the state-of-the art, 10-bed facility for children with life-limiting illnesses at 562 Gerrard St. E., just west of Broadview Avenue.

Salminen thanked all involved for their faith in the $7.5 million project, for working hard to make it happen and for understanding children with life-limiting illnesses deserve to enjoy their childhood the best way possible.

“Thank you for believing in us, all of you in this room,” she said, adding the final push is now on to raise the remaining $900,000 needed to reach the project’s $7.5 million fundraising goal.

The pre-opening event, which was held at PAC’s new corporate office at 558 Gerrard St. E., also included tours of the neighbouring 10,000-square-foot children’s hospice, which is set to transform a disused and derelict circa-1888 heritage building located on the same site as Bridgepoint Health hospital for patients with complex chronic disease and disability.

Charles Rosenberg, the lead architect for the multi-phase project, led the tours, which started at the three-storey addition being built along the north wall of an existing two-and-a-half-storey heritage building, which is known as the Governor’s House as it once served as the residence of the Old Don Jail’s prison keeper and his family. The building was last used as a clubhouse for guards from the neighbouring Don Jail before sitting vacant for more than a year.

“The addition is really everything the old house isn’t,” said Rosenberg of the light and airy space, which will house the majority of the hospice’s amenities including the kitchen, living, dining and family rooms.

“We want this space to be as flexible as possible.”

Rosenberg also spoke at length about creating a peaceful place for healing, adding his team has gone to great lengths to meet standards set by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care while trying to avoid creating too much of an “institutional” feeling.

“It will be a very, very special place,” he said.

Over in the old building, there will be four neonatal rooms on the main floor and six rooms for older children on the second level. Each colourful room will also have its own washroom.

The third floor will have office space, a staff lounge and a private chapel, while the basement will house a backup power generation system as well as several storage areas and utility rooms.

“In the end, I think we’re going to get quite a unique and special facility,” Rosenberg said.

Further, the new children’s hospice will also provide ongoing family support, pain and symptom management, assistance with the transition to home from hospital following surgery or illness, and spiritual and bereavement care.

The site, which is already zoned for health-care purposes, is just steps away from the Riverdale library as well as park land. It’s also just a few kilometres from the Hospital for Sick Children.

Founded in 1995 through a bequest from a Toronto art teacher who died of an AIDS-related illness, PAC provides in-home practical, emotional and spiritual support to Toronto residents of all ages living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.

Currently, there is no other option in Toronto for the family of a child with a life-limiting illness other than to go to a hospital when out-of-the-home palliative care is required.