This award was formally named “Coping with End of Life”. Our Excellence in Quality category names changed in 2020 to reflect the updates to our BC Health Quality Matrix. Visit our Categories and Criteria page to find out more.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Vancouver General Hospital provides end-of-life care for around 150 people every year.

Providing this type of care in the ICU setting can be particularly challenging: the environment is highly technical, patients are usually unable to voice their wishes, and families struggle with uncertainty and grief as they try to advocate for their loved one. The process can understandably be dehumanizing.

The Wishing Well team
The Wishing Well team

The ICU Wishing Well Project was initiated by VGH staff members Julie Lockington, a Registered Nurse, and Allana LeBlanc, a Clinical Nurse Specialist, after hearing about a similar project implemented in Hamilton, Ontario. They felt that the project could be an opportunity to enhance personalized support, provide meaning for patients and their families, and increase staff engagement. Soon, an ICU Wishing Well team was formed.

Patients and families are invited by the Wishing Well team to come up with wishes that help them to cope and create meaning during the dying process. The Wishing Well team, which includes physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual care, personal care aides, management and administrative staff, goes above and beyond to fulfill these wishes.

Just a few examples of wishes that the team has turned into reality include: washing a patient’s hair, playing a patient’s favourite music; bringing a beloved pet from home for a last visit, painting a patient’s nails, having a champagne toast at the bedside, holding a last birthday party, and organizing and decorating for a bedside wedding. In one instance, when a family requested to have a Santo Niño statue at their loved one’s bedside as she was dying, a nurse who wasn’t working that day drove across town to find one. Wishes that need monetary support are funded by the ICU so the project can be accessible to patients and families regardless of socioeconomic status.

Since April 2016, the ICU Wishing Well Project has been able to grant over 50 wishes for over 24 patients and their families. The response from families has been uplifting and full of gratitude. Many have even given back to the project by donating items that were used for their wishes.

The unique power of the ICU Wishing Well Project is its humanity. For clinicians, the project provides a platform to practice holistic patient- and family-centred care. For the whole team, even those who work in non-clinical roles, it is a chance to express empathy above and beyond their ordinary roles, in service of patients and families who are experiencing confusion, grief, and loss.

The project’s impact so far has been powerful, and the team has plans to continue its positive impact. The $2,500 sponsorship will be used to grow the scope of the Wishing Well Project to include more team members, expand into other care areas at VGH, support a deeper well of resources including informational materials for patients, start a fund for wishes that require monetary support, and more.