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Lessons from two Toronto hospices

What can we learn about culturally responsive palliative care from the other side of the world?

When applied to for assistance, Hospice Palliative Care Ontario recommended Heart House Hospice (HHH) Mississauga for its culturally responsive program. HHH is located in the Region of Peel, with a total population of 1.3 million, 60% of whom are of culturally diverse backgrounds.

How Heart House Hospice engages with difference

Nora, PCV Community Engagement and Capacity Building Manager, spent a morning with Theresa Greer, Executive Director, HHH and the hospice team (pictured above), discussing the work they do in promoting palliative care to a diverse community.

The Hospice offers among other services: Wellness programs for patients and families, Caregiver Chat Circle, In-office Spa Days, Spiritual Care, Help Us Understand Grief (HUUG) program for children and an 8-week Bereavement Support Group for Adults.

A number of the programs HHH offers, or participates in, are intended to encourage conversations about grief, dying and death or better understand what hospice does.

Understanding the importance of caregiving in hospice care, Heart House Hospice committed to creating short video resources to help families in their caregiving roles. The videos cover a number of different topics and are available in multiple languages, including Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi. Check them out at

In 2014, HHH led the development of the Children and Youth Grief Network to improve support for children and youth living with dying and death and to inspire candid conversations about grief and death. Check out their collection of resources at the networks website: 

A Community Reading project

In 2019, the Hospice participated in a Community Reading project, “The 100% Certainty Project. Death: something to talk about” initiated by McMaster University in collaboration with the local library, booksellers and other hospices. The project aimed to increase public awareness and comfort with death. Members of the community were invited to read one of four selected books on death, dying and loss and then join a book chat session at their local library to share their thoughts.

Circle of Life conversations

Asma Khan, the HHH Outreach Coordinator offers Circle of Life (a culturally more appropriate term than Death Cafe) conversation sessions to culturally diverse groups in the region.

Volunteers are offered 30-hour palliative care training, allowing them to support palliative individuals and their caregivers. They are then eligible for certificate level training in hand and foot massage, Reiki and aroma therapy, enabling the hospice to attract volunteers who wish to gain skills. Another 18-hour training is also offered for outreach volunteers who work in the community spreading the word about hospice.

HHH works closely with other non-profits and faith communities in the region.

Community meeting spaces within the hospice

A ten-minute drive away is the Dorothy Ley Hospice (DLH) which differs from HHH in that it offers community support as well as residential care. Theresa had arranged with Dipti Purbhoo, Executive Director, DLH, for a tour of the hospice with its impressive rooms, basement offices and community meeting spaces.

Bereavement care

Like HHH, the Dorothy Ley Hospice runs an extensive education and bereavement care program which includes:

  • Bereavement Journeys
  • Preparing Children for a Death, Supporting Grieving Children
  • Coping with the Holidays
  • Lost for Words: Words for Loss

The Dorothy Ley Hospice offers ongoing grief support groups such as: Caregivers’ Time Out, Picking up the Pieces, Good Morning Coffee Talk (for men), and The Next Step (for bereaved spouses).

The two hospices collaborate, share a couple of staff positions and arrange opportunities for their program teams to meet to share ideas and inspire new services for individuals and families.

For more information about Heart House Hospice’s culturally responsive palliative care, see the website:

Pictured L-R:
Dipti Purbhoo, Executive Director, Dorothy Ley Hospice and Theresa Greer, Executive Director, Heart House Hospice

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