We spoke to Heather Weir (MSc BSc RN) Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Hospice. Heather is a qualified nurse by profession, and has been the CEO of the Northern Ireland Hospice since January 2015. She has held leadership roles in the Charity Sector for over 15 years, leading transformational change, supporting and empowering people to be at their best, elevating performance and driving excellence across all organisational divisions.
Using fresh thinking, she leads with authenticity and creativity to ensure the sustainability of fundraising and statutory income. Heather provides transformational leadership and strategic direction, ensuring the focus remains on delivering the highest quality care which is person and family centered. Heather speaks about how the global pandemic has impacted the hospice and how they have adapted to ensure they can protect their patients, staff and volunteers.
How has COVID impacted the Hospice?
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Hospice, from a healthcare, financial and a people perspective, it has affected every facet of our organisation. When first reports of the virus appeared at the start of last year, we had to work quickly to protect our patients, staff and volunteers. Those staff that could work from home were supported to transition their workplace, whilst we sourced PPE and put in place health measures for our Care team who remained on the frontline. Unfortunately, over the year we have had to close our Hospice shops on numerous occasions and all our fundraising events were cancelled, so there has been a substantial negative impact for the charity. However, we’ve also embraced new ways of working to make sure we can continue to care for our patients and their families. We’ve developed virtual support networks to check in with our vulnerable patients and their families. We’ve also started an outreach service with our multi-disciplinary team, this allows us to continue to care for our patients that would normally visit our Hospice Hub, our out-patient unit. We’ve even created a new Rapid Response Service in partnership with the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust. The Service help us, and our partners get the right care to people in their own homes as quickly as possible, cutting down on hospital admissions and allowing people to remain at home with their loved ones. It’s been a challenging time, but we are doing all we can to keep caring for those families that need our help.
How have the hospice adapted to the difficult economic changes this year?
It has been hard and sometimes worrying time for us as a charity, but we were fortunate to receive some financial aid from Government. Although it didn’t cover all our fundraising losses, it was a great relief to get that assistance. The support we have received for our corporate partners and local community during the pandemic has been phenomenal. We truly wouldn’t be able to continue to care for local families without the generosity of people and businesses across Northern Ireland and they have really stepped up for us again and again. At the start of the pandemic we struggled to source supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and put out an appeal on social media. The response was staggering, in all my days working in the charity, I have never seen anything like it. I know Hospice holds a special place in hearts across Northern Ireland, but this was far beyond our normal response. It seemed like our simple request for PPE for our nurses created a movement in the business world. Companies from across Northern Ireland reached out to us to help with PPE, scrubs, cleaning materials and more, it was the embodiment of community spirit.
What does a corporate partnership mean to the hospice?
Our network of corporate partners is something we’re extremely proud of and we believe it is a true partnership. At the end of last year in recognition of the unwavering support we have received from the business community we developed the RISE series. This series of engaging and informative webinars has been designed to 'Restore, Inspire, Support and Encourage' us all as part of our Business of Caring campaign.
We have always known that companies that engaged with Hospice have benefitted, better brand recognition, improved employee engagement, networking and publicity to name a few. Speaking to one of our business supporters recently, they commented that fundraising for Hospice provides the ‘feelgood factor’ within their organisation, whilst demonstrating to the local community that this is an organisation that cares. As Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
What impact does the VANRATH partnership have for the hospice team and those that they care for?
VANRATH are a living example of how an organisation should bring use their Corporate Social Responsibility to positively impact their local community. Their support ensures that local families can receive the specialist palliative care needed. VANRATH provide funding that goes towards the salary of a specialist hospice nurse, a nurse that is providing hospice care every day, whether its managing complex symptoms or supporting a patient at the end of their life. The impact of their support can be felt by families across Northern Ireland.
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