Volunteer receives Palliative Care NSW award

Sharing lectures with "the father of palliative care in North America" sparked Jo-Ann Steeves life-long passion for palliative care, recognised in her being jointly named Palliative Care NSW 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Sharing lectures with "the father of palliative care in North America" sparked Jo-Ann Steeves life-long passion for palliative care, recognised in her being jointly named Palliative Care NSW 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Jo-Ann Steeves, a long term volunteer at HammondCare's Northern Beaches Palliative and Supportive Care Service (NBPSCS), said she was delighted to be named alongside the Family Support Volunteer Program as winners of the Volunteers Award.The award was presented at the Palliative Care NSW Biennial Gala Awards dinner held on May 31 in conjunction with the Professional Education Day, sponsored by Calvary Health Care, NSW Agency for Clinical Improvement and HammondCare.

"It was great to receive the award, really on behalf of the wonderful volunteers at Northern Beaches, some who have served almost since the service opened in 1989," Jo-Ann said.

HammondCare's Head of Volunteering Services Barry Costello, congratulated Jo-Ann on her award and thanked her for her tireless service to NBPSCS and its many patients and family members, as well as her contribution to volunteering.

23 year connection with palliative care

Jo-Ann's association with the service began when she read in the Manly Daily that Dr John Doran was bringing the new concept of palliative care to the Northern Beaches and Jo-Ann immediately volunteered to support its establishment and this led in time to the paid position of what was known then as Manly Warringah Palliative Care's Coordinator of Volunteers, a role she held for nine years.

After leaving that position, Jo-Ann "could not say goodbye to the solid embers of palliative care in my heart" and so she continued as a volunteer for what is now known as the Northern Beaches Palliative and Supportive Care Service and is the president of the Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care which raises funds and awareness for the service.

"For 14 years as a volunteer I have catered, driven, hosted Look Good Feel Better and memorial services and I am on the committee of the Northern Beaches Prostate Cancer Support, a group under the HammondCare umbrella."

Links to the early development of palliative care 

Reflecting on her 23 year involvement with palliative care, Jo-Ann looks back to getting to know Dr Balfour Mount as students at university in Canada and then following his research and career as he uncovered the loneliness, isolation, unmet medical needs and fear that was often the experience of the dying and their families.

Dr Balfour travelled to Britain to learn from Dame Cicely Saunders before opening in 1973 a special 'Palliative Care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal. Becoming known as the father of palliative care in North America, he was also invited to introduce the concept in Australia by Dr David Tiller.

"I resonated with the concept of respecting and caring for people, helping them to live well right up 'til the final punctuation point of their time in our world," Jo-Ann recalls.

Driving force with 'ease and humility'

In nominating Jo-Ann for the award, HammondCare NBPSCS staff noted that, "Jo-Ann has been the driving force behind fundraising activities, has organised and participated in social events to celebrate the precious lives still to be lived."

Just one example was when Jo-Ann "arranged a trip to Mascot for a lady who dreamed of becoming a pilot. The lady had the ride of her life in a simulator and sat in the Captain’s seat of a Qantas 747."

Of her many other acts of kindness and personal support for patients and their families, the nomination reports that: "Staff frequently heard from the recipients of her kind actions how grateful they were to be in the company of someone who would listen with an empathetic ear, make them feel relaxed, make them smile and make them feel their life still had purpose. The ease and humility with which she engages with people who are confronting such uncertainty in their lives is quite remarkable."

And with food being such a challenging issue for many facing their last days, Jo-Ann's culinary contribution cannot be overlooked: "She spends untold hours preparing delicious sweet and savoury treats for the many workshops and groups held at Northern Beaches. The hosts and guests at the Look Good… Feel Better Workshops in particular are wowed by her speciality - her famous quiche. Taste buds are revitalised. We have a theory that the love that goes into the creation of her food is the magic ingredient."

* Some quotes are from an article by Jo-Ann printed in a recent edition of Pallium.