Winner of palliative care award the 'real deal'
When he worked in the kitchen of the former Prince Edward Home on Brighton Road in Charlottetown, Joey Matheson was nervous to go into the palliative care unit. Two decades later, he has been awarded the province’s highest honour for excellence in palliative care.
“I was terrified back then, of dying, of being around people who were dying,” he explained. “Death was different back then, the care around it has evolved.”
Matheson says Prince Edward Island’s care is exemplary - from pain management to the new $5.6 million stand-alone palliative care centre on Murchison Lane in Charlottetown. Opened in 2015, the palliative care centre offers a 10-bed palliative care unit, a day program, respite services, and an outpatient clinic is planned.
“Investments such as this have resulted in Prince Edward Island developing one of the most comprehensive palliative care programs in Canada,” said Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell. “It's important to acknowledge the incredible Islanders who work in palliative care across the province to ensure all patients are treated with compassion and dignity.
“The palliative care centre allows them to spend their last days as comfortable as possible with every opportunity to enjoy time with their families.”
"There are often twice as many volunteers at the centre as staff," Joey said. “The people who volunteer and work in palliative care are amazing.”
Matheson is a maintenance worker at the centre who also takes time to be there to support patients and their families. He even runs for popsicles on hot summer days. He tells the story of a fisherman who brings a lobster for every patient every Friday during the season.
“All of the little things mean so much to someone who is dying.”
Joey Matheson was presented with the Winnifred MacArthur Award of Excellence in Palliative Care 2018 on May 24, 2018. He is quick to praise MacArthur, the first recipient of the award which now bears her name.
"Winnie - who retired three years ago after close to 40 years of nursing - was a trailblazer in the field of palliative care, and somebody I had a chance to work with and call a friend for many years," he said. "To have my name next to hers on this award makes it an extra special honour."
Matheson has spent his entire career helping to make people’s dying days easier. His job became personal last year when his own father died of bone cancer at age 65. One of Joey's father's wishes was to die at home.
The province’s expanded integrated palliative care home program made that wish possible, allowing medical staff as part of the integrated team to visit his home that was outfitted with a hospital bed.
“End-of-life care is so personal, it hits you hard when you go into someone’s home,” Matheson said. “Dad had a great set up and a lot of really good people checking up on him.”
Mary Sullivan, the province’s director of home care, palliative and geriatric care, calls Matheson the "real deal."
“He is truly inspirational,” she said. “He makes a positive difference with everything he does.”
"People in the final stage of their life are wonderful to be around daily; they’re in a completely different mindset and are so appreciative," Joey said. “I just want to help them get to the finish line a little easier.”
Palliative care includes supports to help families understand their illness and treatment options, manage pain and symptoms, respite care, emotional support, and more. It’s about being there for people - - in a time when they need support the most.