Site announced for Jewish hospice in Toronto

(From left) MPP Roman Baber, Councillor James Pasternak, and MP Michael Levitt at last September's announcement of the purchase of land for Neshama Hospice.

Canada’s first freestanding residential hospice based on Jewish values has an address, or at least a location.

Announced a year ago, the Neshama Hospice will be located at the corner of Cadillac Avenue and Brightwood Street, in the Bathurst and Wilson area of Toronto.

Five parcels of land were purchased last September and plans call for a building of between 18,000 and 20,000 sq ft.

The 10-bed facility will provide end-of-life care for everyone, but will be “culturally Jewish,” meaning it will embrace Jewish values, mark Jewish holidays and provide kosher food.

Intended for those who choose to die outside a hospital or their home, Neshama Hospice will offer nursing, personal support, ambulatory care, bereavement counselling and other services to palliative patients.

The average stay is expected to be 15 days, meaning that the facility can service about 250 residents per year, organizers said.

Organizers are waiting for zoning approval from the City of Toronto. Plans are to open the doors in mid-2021, Robert Kamen, director of operations and a founder of Neshama Hospice, told The CJN.

He said the location is ideal. “The Bathurst-Wilson corridor is the heart of the Jewish community. It’s a perfect spot, because we’re almost equidistant from the northern and southern communities.”

He also said the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) that serves the area has the highest ratio of people age 60 to 80, but the lowest ratio of residential hospice beds in the province.

“It’s really an area that requires more attention,” said Kamen.


Neshama co-founder Debbie Berlin-Romalis, now its secretary and treasurer, agrees that the northern part of Toronto has a shortage of hospice care. And given the region’s ethnic and cultural diversity, “it’s an area we are quite thrilled to be building in.”

While there are Jewish hospice programs offered by social service agencies, hospitals and seniors facilities in Canada, the Neshama Hospice is planned as a standalone structure geared solely to end-of-life issues.

It hopes to raise $18 million. To date, about $11 million has been raised in commitments and pledges.

Ontario’s previous Liberal government committed $2 million in construction grants to build the hospice and $105,000 per bed annually for operating costs. Kamen said those amounts were re-affirmed by the Conservative government in December, when it announced plans for 193 new hospice beds, at a cost of $33.6 million.

Talks are in the early stages, but Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) is seen as a “key partner” for the hospice. It’s hoped the agency will provide social work and grief counselling, said palliative care physician Dr. Sandy Buchman, also a founder and director of Neshama Hospice.

The facility will also partner with existing programs in the Jewish community, such as Baycrest Health Sciences’ palliative care unit, Sinai Health System’s Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care and JF&CS’s visiting hospice program.

But Buchman said those programs tend to focus on seniors and the Neshama Hospice will serve all ages. “There are many people below senior age who have to face this, as well, including children,” he said.

A Jewish value is to welcome the stranger, Buchman noted, while the Hebrew word “neshama” means “soul,” or “spirit,” but also “essence” – “actually going to the essence of who that individual is.

“This is very much about patient-centred care, family centred care, from whatever (the patient’s) background,” Buchman said. “But it will have a Jewish vibe.”


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