Hospice Huntsville medical director, Dr. Deb Harrold, receives provincial award


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!”

For more information about Hospice Huntsville, visit hospicehuntsville.com. The organization is holding one of its major fundraising events, Hike for Hospice, on May 6.

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  1. Jen Rosewarne on

    This is not a surprise, but cause for celebration all the same. Congratulations Deb. Well deserved. Remember when you made time to come into my grade 12 class? I remember everything you said. You are interesting and inspirational.

  2. Rob Millman on

    I always feel twice-blessed: Dr. Kirkpatrick is my surgeon of choice and Dr. Harrold was my first family physician in Huntsville. The former was honoured last week; the latter was honoured this week. Each has an extremely caring, sensitive nature; indicative of the empathy that they have for their patients.
    Deb, I can’t believe that it’s been 12 years since you supervised my primary care. Fond as I am of you, however, I fervently hope that it’s more than 12 years before you again assume that role.

  3. Mary Spring on

    Congratulations Deb for receiving this award. It was well deserved. How fortunate we are that you and your family chose to live and work in Huntsville. We are blessed.

  4. Julie McIntyre on

    Congratulations, Deb, on earning the Dr S. Lawrence Librach Award! I know from frequent visits to Huntsville and contact with people whose life has been touched by the Algonquin Grace Hospice and your caring and expertise, what a huge impact you’ve had on the community. I think making hospices a welcoming place where people are invited to discuss all aspects of death and dying is a great idea. We just need so many more of them.
    Keep up the inspiring work, Deb. I know that Larry, who was also a mentor of mine, would be extremely proud of you!

  5. Chas Clark on

    What a wonderful and far sighted Doctor we have in our community. The award is well deserved and could not go to a better person. Have a great vacation.

  6. Nancy Alcock on

    Congratulations Deb! This is so well deserved and we are very fortunate to have you providing such great leadership in our community. Thank you for all you do..

  7. Jill Patterson on

    Congratulations Deb so well earned and deserved.
    So, now I am curious about 10 year Plan B.
    Jill Patterson

  8. Linda Martin on

    We are blessed to have you and your expertise in palliative care here in Huntsville Dr. Deb Harrold.
    It’s an honour to know you.

  9. Betty Fulton on

    Congratulations Dr. Harrold and congratulations Huntsville Hospice – a wonderful feather in everyone’s cap, and so well deserved. I met Dr. Harrold briefly last summer when having tea with the ladies from Algonquin Grace. My late husband and I lived in Huntsville area for 23 years, so were able to be involved in the financing, present for the official opening of Algonquin Grace, and absolutely blown away by the amount of money Dr. Harrold and Dr. Trenholm had committed, providing it was met by the medical community, which of course it was very quickly. Obviously a very dedicated lady with an equally dedicated husband who put their money where their mouth is – as the old saying goes. it was a pleasure and an honour to meet you Dr. Harrold, and a joy to read of your well deserved honour.

  10. Lori Boothby on

    Congratulations Dr Harrold. You are an amazing woman and we are fortunate to have you in our community. Thank you for everything you do.

  11. Kathy McKee on

    Well deserved . Her kindness compassion and dedication to teaching others is absolutely astounding. I have had the honor of learning from her for the past 3 years and I have learned lots thanks Dr Deb for just being an amazing mentor

  12. Lynn Sharer on

    Congratulations Deb. This award is so well deserved. Since I first met you your focus on end of life care has been laser sharp and continual. Your mentorship of the teams, the physicians and the community has been unfailing and dedicated. How fortunate our families are to have your commitment, guidance and care. So proud of you.

  13. Nadine Beatty on

    So well deserved Deb! Your kindness and compassion touches so many people. We are indeed fortunate to have you in our community. Congratulations!

  14. Rose Evans on

    Congratulations Deb – a well deserve recognition for a fine and caring woman, wife, mother, friend and lucky us a wonderful Doctor in our community.

  15. I might be biased, but I am so proud of Deb. I have the unique opportunity to watch this incredible woman and doctor work day in and day out, no matter what time of the day or day of the week, she works incredibly hard to ensure that each and every one of her patients are cared for to the best of her and the teams (HOPE and Algonquin Grace) ability. She cares deeply about each of her patients without prejudice or presumptions. Our community is a much better place because of her. A place that each and every one of us should be proud that we value the end of life as much as we do the beginning or any time in between. We are leaders, not followers, in health care here in Huntsville.

    • Deb Harrold on

      We are leaders…
      Huntsville is a lucky place to be….
      I am a very lucky lady, mother, wife, doctor…
      Thank you for your forever kindness and love

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