Nurses are advocates for their patients. In doing so, nurses create change in order to better the lives of the vulnerable people they care for. The power of this is exemplified by initiatives such as A Port in the Storm. Co-founded by RRC Nursing instructor Joanne Loughery and Cancer Care Manitoba’s Patricia Benjaminson, A Port in the Storm is a non-profit organization that provides affordable, safe, and supportive accommodation for critically ill patients and their families travelling from rural areas for treatment in Winnipeg. A Port in the Storm has a simple yet powerful vision to offer these people a place to call home and a mission to provide a safe haven for rural and northern adults requiring medical treatment.
A Port in the Storm was inspired 12 years ago by Sue, a young woman with cancer who had to relocate to Winnipeg for an extended period of time in order to receive treatment. A single parent living in rural Manitoba with her three year old son, having to relocate for treatment was a logistical, financial, and emotional burden. After extended therapies, Sue relapsed and lost her battle to cancer. Before passing away, she shared a dream with Joanne and Patricia, her oncology nurses, about creating a place in Winnipeg for critically ill patients. This place would offer an affordable, safe, and supportive environment filled with people going through similar struggles. She created a business plan but passed away three weeks after sharing the idea with Joanne and Patricia. It was from this inspiration that A Port in the Storm was born.
While Sue’s story was unique to her, the problem of rural re-location for patients suffering from cancer and other critical diseases is not. As an oncology nurse for over 20 years, Joanne has seen this issue over and over. Along with Patricia, they decided to do something about it and created A Port in the Storm. Building this venture has been a long involved process of creating the non-profit organization, receiving charitable status, creating a business plan, building a feasibility strategy, creating a governance structure, and appointing a board of directors. Joanne, Patricia, Greg Pilgrim, a cancer survivor who had to relocate to Winnipeg for treatment, their team (including a board of directors, executive director, house manager, and volunteer coordinator), and countless volunteers raised over 3 million dollars for the project and have continued to build and support it for over a decade. Joanne acted as the first president and now chairs the partnership committee and government relations committee and is an active board member. Patricia is now the current president of A Port in the Storm.
The original A Port in the Storm opened in 2012 in Villa Aulneau in St. Boniface with 9 suites, which quickly expanded into 16 suites. The facility has now moved to 311 Alexander Street in the Exchange District and currently has 14 suites, with the hope to expand and create a common area. Land has been purchased for a permanent site on which to build a new facility but the current priority is to keep A Port in the Storm open as it continues to grow. Despite the logistical costs involved with running the facility, A Port in the Storm strives to keep room rates as low as possible for tenants and currently rents for only $58.00 a night for non-funded patients. The facility is full all the time and, unfortunately, has to turn people away due to simply not having the space to accommodate them.
A Port in the Storm is the only facility of its kind in Manitoba and has become the number 1 referral for rural patients who have to travel to Winnipeg for extended treatment. It accommodates people from all over rural Manitoba, Northwest Territories, and North-Western Ontario, providing an affordable alternative to hotels, apartments, and hospital associated lodging. The facility offers fully furnished suites with full kitchens as well as free access to laundry and parking. More importantly, it offers a supportive environment of tenants who get together regularly, often eat meals together, and support each other through their personal struggles. The facility has been likened to Ronald McDonald House but unlike Ronald McDonald house, which accommodates families of hospitalized children, A Port in the Storm houses both adult patients and their families. The facility does not offer medical services but its creators believe in the ability to provide support without providing direct health care. Caregivers are encouraged to stay with patients and therefore the facility is filled with patients and their support systems. Since its inception, A Port in the Storm has serviced over 600 patients and their families.
A Port in the Storm prioritizes patients based on a number of priorities, with one of the largest being the length of stay. Due to extended cancer treatments, most of the patients accessing A Port in the Storm are cancer patients; however, the facility also accommodates many patients with heart disease and some patients with other critical diseases.
Travelling into Winnipeg from rural Manitoba for medical treatment is a major financial burden for the rural community. While there is government support for the travel itself, there is no financial support for housing aside from First Nation status. A study conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society has shown that accommodation is one of the largest costs for rural people living with cancer, exacerbated by the additional logistical costs of leaving their home behind for extended periods of time. There is, therefore, a huge financial disparity between the urban and rural communities, as many urban patients do not have to relocate to receive treatment. Therefore, A Port in the Storm provides an essential service to a disparaged demographic. Joanne reiterates that there isn’t a person who has stayed there that hasn’t been immensely grateful for the service. One patient called A Port in the Storm “A big piece of heaven when you need it most.” It has a huge impact in reducing the burden that comes with relocation. Critical diseases such as cancer will continue to plight Manitoba and treatment will continue to be centered in urban areas such as Winnipeg. Therefore, services such as A Port in the Storm are crucial as housing is a determinant of health. With 40% of cancer patients residing in rural Manitoba, housing in Winnipeg for this demographic is very important.
Joanne is committed to advocating for rural patients, completing her Master’s degree on rural issues in heath care. She has also published a literature review on the subject. Joanne believes in the importance of A Port in the Storm and has given her students the opportunity to learn about the service from the Mental Health Clinical course, in which students provided support on site, and the 3rd year Leadership course, in which students looked at the project from a leadership and advocacy perspective. Joanne hopes that her initiative is inspiring to students as she believes in nurses as advocates, leaders, and change agents, saying “our students will be the leaders of the future who create positive change for vulnerable people.” She strongly believes that nurses can impact real change beyond the bedside and she hopes that students will be inspired to take initiative and create change wherever they see a need. As many students will go on to work in rural areas, Joanne also sees the importance of students learning about the individualistic needs and struggles for rural communities as these students will go on to be the agents referring their patients to A Port in the Storm.
The new facility of A Port in the Storm had its first open house on May 5th, with two more occurring on May 12th and 19th. Joanne encourages all nursing faculty, students, and anyone interested to come and visit the facility. While the open houses offer official visits, anyone interested in A Port in the Storm can contact the facility for a tour, information, or to volunteer. There are numerous volunteer opportunities for people of all ages, including a 96 year old woman who has become the substitute grandmother for the facility, visiting with the patients and their families.
For more information on A Port in the Storm, visit their website at www.aportinthestorm.ca
To set up a tour or inquire about volunteer opportunities, contact Debbie or Stacy via their information on the website.
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