After 101 years of serving the ‘patient comfort’ needs of Swift Current and area, the Cypress Regional Hospital Auxiliary held an emotional final meeting on Oct. 16, hosted by the Cypress Regional Hospital, and received a standing ovation from everyone in attendance.
“I thought it was quite an amazing feat to have an organization that was 101 years in existence,” said Ron Heeg, Vice Chair of the Cypress Regional Health Authority Board, who was invited to speak at the event.
“Plus the fact that they had done so much for the hospital and for the patients especially. They started by doing gowns and then they ran the gift shops. It was just amazing the number of volunteer hours that they put in. I was very impressed with the dedication that they showed and the commitment to providing comfort for the patients.”
Heeg noted, “Things have changed in the last few years because we have the Foundation to do fundraising and things like that, but still, they deserve all the plaudits they get. I was very impressed too, when they came in after lunch, they got a standing ovation from all the people in the cafeteria."
President Donna Barber, who served with the Auxiliary for about 40 years, including about 20 as President, explained there were several reasons behind their decision to disband.
“There was no one wanting to take executive positions is a big part of it. Part of it is because we haven’t been doing what we used to do, just because of government laws and privacy.”
Those changes in privacy, health and safety regulations have drastically impacted the work of many hospital auxiliaries, Barber noted, recalling quite a different time 100 years ago when the Women’s Hospital Aid Society was first formed on April 1, 1911.
Then, gifts of home-baked treats and homegrown produce were welcomed by the hospital. “Years ago, people donated garden vegetables and the hospital staff canned them or froze them and fed them to the patients, and those kinds of things just can’t happen [today] because of health regulations.”
In a commemorative pamphlet she prepared for the occasion, Barber wrote, “In the beginning, the auxiliary’s activities were making and providing linens, curtains and gowns for the hospital. Later, furnishings for the nurses’ residence were purchased, as well as major equipment for the hospital.”
Despite many significant changes in regulations, their mandate of ‘patient comfort’ has remained constant throughout the century. The Auxiliary provided TVs for patient rooms, or redecorated social areas in addition to providing for needs that were often beyond the reach of the hospital’s budget but made a significant improvement in patients' lives.
The Auxiliary also has a long history of providing scholarships to encourage entrance into nursing studies. Their scholarship program began in 1931, when a $25 scholarship was awarded to a nursing graduate. More recently, the Auxiliary offered a $400 scholarship to a graduate of the Swift Current Comprehensive High School entering the nursing field, and a $500 scholarship to a second year nursing student at Great Plains College.
“We’ve done about five years of scholarships for nurses at the Great Plains College. We’ve given $500 to a second year nursing student. That’s where some of our money has gone, besides purchasing items for the hospital.”
When the Swift Current General Hospital became a Union hospital in 1947, the Auxiliary renamed itself soon afterward, becoming the Swift Current Union Hospital Ladies’ Auxiliary in 1950. There were two subsequent name changes. In 1996, they became the Swift Current Regional Hospital Auxiliary and finally the Cypress Regional Hospital Auxiliary in 2004.
The Auxiliary’s Candy Striper program, begun in 1966 to enable girls 15 years of age or older to volunteer in a hospital setting and hopefully acquire an interest in nursing, met a similar fate due to evolving health care regulations and shorter hospital stays.
“Patients are not staying in the hospital as long, and when they’re there, they’re really sick, so they don’t need a patient visit. Candy Stripers in the early times sat and wrote letters, or did things patients couldn’t do, or sat and read to the patient. It’s evolved and changed a lot over time. … It got so there was such a little bit that they were able to do that they were bored, not able to do anything that was worthwhile, other than sit and visit with a patient.”
Auxiliary members once knit finger puppets, infant outfits and newborn baby caps, and created food-service tray favours for patients who had to spend special occasions in hospital.
“Some of them have been just a little place card, like Happy Valentine’s Day. We used to dress up rolls of Lifesavers, so it’s even changed that. We used to give them a poppy on Remembrance Day, but there’s a pin. It’s dangerous - a sharp point. We had to go to stickers.”
In 1983, the Auxiliary took over the operation of the CNIB Canteen and opened a small gift shop run by volunteers, where snacks, gifts and fundraising items such as cookbooks and homemade infant wear could be purchased. That shop closed in 2007, prior to the opening of the current gift shop that is operated under the management of the Dr. Noble Irwin Regional Healthcare Foundation.
“The blanket warmer for the Renal Dialysis Unit was our most recent donation. Prior to that we had made donations towards blanket warmers for the Swift Current Care Centre and the Palliser Care Centre.
“The blanket warmer purchased for the Swift Current Care Centre was a combined effort with money from our auxiliary, the S.C. C. C. Auxiliary and the Dr. Noble Irwin Healthcare Foundation. We gave the Foundation $1,000 towards the one for the Palliser Care Centre. We paid the total cost of the one for the hospital.”
On a provincial level, Barber said there used to be 90 plus auxiliaries in 10 districts within Saskatchewan. “It’s now down to five districts and there’s probably less that 50 auxiliaries affiliated with the provincial association.”
On a national level, there were only three provinces that were affiliated with the Canadian level. “All 10 provinces used to be affiliated, and it was more of an educational, sharing of ideas type of thing. With the decline of auxiliaries, they’re folding as of this year as well.
“Towards the end, we’ve just been … an arm of the Foundation. Anything we purchased, it seemed it had to go through the Foundation to get it ordered and purchased. That was kind of the way things had to be.”
On behalf of the Auxiliary, Barber expressed her appreciation to the residents of the health region. “I would like to say thanks to the Cypress Health Region Board, Cypress Hospital staff, citizens of Swift Current and surrounding areas and communities for supporting our projects. Without their support we could not have made our projects and given them our donations. We much appreciate all their assistance over the years.”
“I was very glad I was able to go,” said Heeg. “I was invited because Tyler [Bragg] wasn’t able to make it that day. I knew a lot of the ladies that were on the Executive and were volunteers, so that made it even more special. I enjoyed it. I just found it a rewarding experience.”