Carol Dobson

When Lori Riles’ son, Kurtis, was transferred from Sydney, N.S. to the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s cardiac unit last spring, she slept on cots, in chairs, and even on the floor to be next to her son. According to Lori, it was her only choice as she didn’t have the resources to go elsewhere.

Back in Sydney, last October, Kurtis was readmitted to the hospital. When his situation turned critical and he was about to be transferred back to Halifax, Lori sprang into action.

“I asked the social workers in Sydney if there was anything that could be done to help me,” she says. “I had $100 in the bank. At 2 p.m., they told me we were going to Halifax, and by 6 p.m., my bag was packed and we were in the ambulance.”

Luck was on her side. Killam Properties donated a fully furnished, two-bedroom apartment for long-term stay patients and families who visit the QEII. For the next two months it would be a home away from home for Lori and members of her family.

“It was a godsend — a five minute walk away from the hospital, which was important because I have mobility issues,” she says. “Everything was there for me — furniture, linens, towels, blankets, even dish soap and laundry detergent. I couldn’t believe the generosity of these people. My family is very grateful.”

Paula Wickenden, a health care social worker with the QEII’s Cardiovascular Surgery Programs, became Lori’s ‘guardian angel’.

“In the past 10 years, since Killam donated this apartment, more than 50 families have taken advantage of it,” Paula says. “Their stays range from days to up to six months. It takes one of the major stressors off their plate. Completely furnished, the apartment is close to grocery stores so they can make their own meals, and it allows family members to concentrate on the medical interventions at hand.”

Killam has made similar apartments available to families with loved ones in hospitals across Atlantic Canada. Since Halifax’s ‘home away from home’ opened in 2006, others have opened in Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John, and Charlottetown, with another coming soon to St. John’s. They’re located in buildings near the hospitals. Killam works with social workers at the hospitals to locate the families in greatest need of this resource.

For Lori, it’s a homebase while a loved one is in hospital. In other cases, if a parent is ill, the rest of the family can move in — important if children are involved because it keeps families together. It’s also a place where a patient can visit for a change of scenery and time with family. Other patients, who have been in the QEII’s Rehabilitation Centre, use it as a bridge between the Centre and their return to life in the community.

“Killam Properties has a motto of: Doing the right thing,” says Jeremy Jackson, Killam’s vice-president of marketing. “Our business is housing, and we’re one of the biggest landlords in the market, so this is one of our ways of giving back to the community.”

“Our resident managers are very connected to this program and they take it to heart, keeping an eye on who’s coming and going. It’s been really well-received and they are proud to be involved.”

As for Kurtis, he is doing well following heart valve replacement surgery. “Now it’s a matter of tweaking his medications,” Lori says. “He’s still got a long road ahead of him, but he’s alive and that’s all that matters.”