It couldn’t have been a better way to have her work honoured.
The award that Dr. Deb Harrold, Medical Director at Hospice Huntsville, recently received from Hospice Palliative Care Ontario (HCPO) was not only the result of a nomination from the palliative care team she works with, it is named for her mentor, Dr. Larry Librach.
Dr. Harrold received the Dr. S. Lawrence Librach Award—which is presented annually to “a physician who demonstrates excellence and leadership in palliative care and advances palliative care in their communities through mentorship of family physicians”—at the HCPO annual conference at the end of April.
“It’s a great honour to get this award, particularly. Firstly, because the palliative care team here has come together to nominate me for the award, so that is lovely that your peers recognize the work that you do,” said Dr. Harrold. “And if you are in the palliative care world, (Dr. Librach) is a guru of palliative care. He was truly a mentor when I first graduated…he was generous and kind in his time and his ways, so to get his award particularly is lovely and it makes me think that maybe I could do the same for other people—mentor them and teach them and inspire them to greatness in palliative care as well.”
In their nomination, the Hospice Huntsville palliative care team said, “Dr. Harrold is a true visionary who works tenaciously to accomplish the goal of ensuring optimal palliative care for those living with life-limiting illness…On a daily basis, Dr. Harrold strives to provide patients with the ability to live and to die with quality symptom management in the setting of their choice.”
It’s clearly her passion, and one that arrived in an ‘aha’ moment when she was completing her family medicine residency in Sudbury. She felt that something was missing in her medical training; a hole that was filled when she trained under Dr. Andrew Knight for a certificate of added competency in palliative care.
“The concept of providing palliative care, end-of-life care, is really what medicine means to me,” said Dr. Harrold. “I really felt that I could make a positive change in people’s worlds. It’s the last chapter of their life but a very, very important chapter that I think medicine was shying away from—fearful of or not committed to at least stand accountable and present and be a provider during that chapter of people’s lives. It’s comfortable for me. I enjoy meeting people and spending time with people and caring for people during their dying experience. It is very fulfilling for me.”
After she and her husband, Dr. Rich Trenholm, arrived in Huntsville in 2003 to set up their family practices, they found that the local medical community was “open and willing to hear about how we could do better at whatever it is that somebody was offering and presenting expertise in,” said Dr. Harrold. It was the ideal place to implement her vision of a multi-disciplinary palliative care team and by 2006, the HOPE Huntsville palliative care team, became a reality.
“There were opportunities that came out in the first couple years to develop a palliative care team [including the provincial government’s concept of Family Health Teams], which I took ahold of and was able to establish the HOPE Huntsville palliative care team here alongside Norma Connolly, the lead nurse of that organization. She and I have worked together now for 12 years, really putting palliative care and end-of-life care on the map in Huntsville.”
The team’s mentorship and shared care model supports local family doctors and primary care physicians and nurse practitioners “to really take great value in the care that they can provide for their patients and patients’ family members during the dying experience,” said Dr. Harrold. She also shares her palliative care expertise with the next generation of physicians as a faculty member at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and encourages local primary care providers to continue to learn about palliative care.
The palliative care team was part of her 10-year plan, as was a desire to help build a residential hospice in the community. The residential hospice, Algonquin Grace, came at year six after Dr. Harrold and the hospice organization advocated for it with the government, wrote business plans, and ran capital campaigns.
I’m very, very, very proud of this place. I do a lot of regional work now through the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN (Local Health Integration Network), advocating for palliative care and resources across our LHIN, and I really believe that the opportunity to have a residential hospice, bricks and mortar, four walls that speak to your community…is what builds the conversation about dying and dying well. It’s a difficult conversation to get started at the general community level unless you have a stimulus like the residential hospice. The stories now propel themselves forward about what a value having a hospice organization is.
Dr. Deb Harrold on Huntsville’s Algonquin Grace Residential Hospice
She wants the community to know that Algonquin Grace is open to every one—you don’t need to be visiting someone or needing the organization’s services to step through the front door.
“There’s somebody to greet you at the front desk and show you around, answer your questions, answer your curiosity even,” said Dr. Harrold. “Every time I say that to a group of people, they are surprised. And then you’ll hear one person in the crowd say, ‘Yeah, actually, it is such a beautiful place or it is such a happy place or it is such a welcoming place.’ It is not a sad or gloomy place, but a place of life, and celebrating life until the moment of death. Also, this is a place of guidance and information…it’s an opportunity to ask questions if you have them or get some support if you need it for anything for living well until you die.”
Dr. Harrold believes that Hospice Huntsville “has proven itself to be a very valuable organization in our community and will continue to serve our community and all of Muskoka for hospice care in people’s homes, in the hospital or in the residence,” and it will have the opportunity to grow and expand its services in the coming years.
I think hospices in general are having more and more of a role to play in the healthcare system knowing that there’s a push to make sure patient care is done in the community and not in a hospital, and acute medicine is getting tighter and tighter from a budget point of view. So the concept of having hospices and providing palliative care and home care services and support in the community is fundamentally where healthcare is going. And hopefully the government also sees that in its funding of hospices across our province.
As for her own future, Dr. Harrold says there’s no question that it will always focus on palliative care. “There’s a 10-year plan B in the works, I guess. I very much enjoy the flexibility of my job right now and getting new people involved with providing palliative care consultation services in my community, which is allowing me to continue to shift my focus and spend some more time doing some system work, whether that’s in the region or the province.”
In their nomination for the award, Hospice Huntsville’s palliative care team summed up her leadership role with an eye to the future like this: “Dr. Harrold’s overarching goal is that each primary provider is capable of providing excellent palliative with a team to support them. She works on this from the ground up by supporting students and family doctors locally as well as from the top down by actively building new systems regionally to support facilitate this model of care. She is a force!”
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