March 15 - 21, 2015: Issue 206

 2015 Pittwater Woman of the Year  

Jo-Ann Steeves

 Jo-Ann Steeves, President, Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care United Hospital Auxiliaries NSW Inc., with Chelsey Baker Mona Vale Hospital Jubilee Ambassador, and Eunice Raymond Chair SMVHC - Picture by A J Guesdon, 2014. 

 2015 Pittwater Woman of the Year -  Jo-Ann Steeves

The Zonta Club of the Northern Beaches hosted the annual Pittwater Woman of the Year announcement on Wednesday 11th of March 2015. Over 200 Pittwater women gathered at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club for a good breakfast, to hear some inspiring speakers and celebrate the achievements of their counterparts in our community.

Pittwater’s MP, the Hon. Rob Stokes presented the award to Jo-Ann Steeves, a lady who has been a volunteer with Northern Beaches Palliative and Supportive Care for over 15 years and played a key role in Mona Vale Hospital’s recent Golden Jubilee celebrations. Jo-Ann also volunteers with support group ‘Look Good Feel Better’ which works with cancer patients to help manage appearance related side effects following treatment.

 “Jo-Ann epitomises volunteerism and is a beacon of inspiration and compassion,” Rob Stokes said on Wednesday. “There isn’t a challenge, initiative or task which Jo-Anne doesn’t embrace head on. Despite the emotions involved, Jo-Ann has assisted countless local residents during some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

“It takes a very special person to volunteer in cancer support and Jo-Ann does it with unwavering commitment and a contagious smile. Not only does Jo-Ann make an enormous contribution herself – she also encourages others to get involved which is equally important.

“What’s most impressive about Jo-Ann is that she never slows down – she’s always looking for new opportunities, new programs and new ways to assist others. This is our community’s opportunity to highlight Jo-Ann’s incredible efforts and say thank you,” Rob Stokes said.

We first met Jo-Ann Steeves through her work as President of the Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care, work that makes you pause to think of what this lady is dedicated and why she is.

Living in Pittwater, surrounded by good salt air and beautiful landscapes, we’re naturally inspired to get outdoors and enjoy where we live, good health seems to be epitomised through our lifestyles. There is not one person here that has not been touched by a family member’s illness though and many have had difficult passages eased by community support services initiated by community members.

We talked during the week to Jo-Ann about her work in our community, congratulating her on being the 2015 Pittwater Woman of the Year.

“It’s an honour to have received this but I’m quite humbled by it and feel I share this award with the many people who have worked in Palliative Care over the years. S many people have given so much to build this to where it is today in our community.”

As President of the Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care, what is your role?

This is a branch of the United Hospital’s Auxiliary, which is the same family as the Mona Vale Hospital Auxiliary. Our role is primarily fundraising and support for Northern Beaches Palliative Care.

In 2014 an addition to the Palliative Care Unit at Mona Vale Hospital was officially opened – how did it feel to see that, which so many groups had worked so had to build, come to fruition?

I actually started the Hospice Trust Fund in July 1992 that eventually became the basis of that fund. Altogether the cost was about 670 thousand to build this. The money came form all sections of the community; Mona Vale Hospital Auxiliary, Rotary, as well as many individuals contributing what they could. The original Trust Fund was for the bricks and mortar of a Hospice on the grounds of Mona Vale Hospital. As time went on and that didn’t come to fruition, the government of that time held these raised funds and it took Eileen Gordon three years to be able to make that money available to put into that addition. The verandah, which cost an extra 70 thousand dollars, was given to the unit by various sources outside the community.

Where did you first begin being interested in Palliative Care?

I was there initially for the establishment of this in 1998. Further back then that, when I was going to university for my undergraduate degree in Canada, I did as part of my degree some art subjects but also some medical and engineering units. In the medical classes I use to sit beside a fellow student called Balfour Mount. He became a Professor of Surgery in Montreal and began looking at patients who weren’t ‘curable’ and thought this is not right, they aren’t being treated properly. He subsequently sent some of his registrars into a program to officially determine what was happening to people who were dying.  He found that the doctors, feeling that they were failures, wouldn’t come to visit them as often, and it even took the nurses longer to answer their bells when they were ringing for help. So he thought ‘something has to be better than this’ and he discovered that in England in the 1960’s Dame Cecily Saunders had started the modern Hospice movement.  He is called ‘the godfather of modern palliative care’ – he in fact named the service ‘palliative care’, meaning that it is to help rather than aim for a cure. To this he brought the idea that really it is a very special time of life, at the end of life, to make sure that people, and their families, are well cared for; that they’re kept pain and symptom free, that everything is done so that they can live comfortably, and can live the last precious part of their life as well as can be and get the most out of it.

Every once in a while I would see an article on him in the alumni magazine that we received form Queens University in Kingston and these just struck a chord with me. I visited his Palliative Care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and followed his work. When my dad was dying the nearest Palliative Care unit was in Toronto, which was a distance away from me. They were very supportive, constantly on the telephone to me and trying to make sure he got the best care possible.

It was always something that I thought was wonderful. Many people are interested in helping animals or babies and this became my passion. It was an area where more people needed to get involved to improve what there was.

When Jon Doran, a G.P. who was renowned up and down the Northern Beaches, and delivered many babies, announced in 1988 that he was going to start Palliative Care on the Northern Beaches, I made a note of this. Dr Doran’s wife developed cancer, and this changed his focus. He went around the world researching Palliative Care and established the Palliative Care Service at Mona Vale in late October 1989. He stated at this time he would need a lot of community help.

Unlike any other medical discipline this does involved a lot of community help, more so than others. The other difference is that it cares for the whole of the family as well as the patient. 

So I wrote him a letter and said ‘can I lick envelopes for you or be of any help?’. It happened that the Nursing Unit Manager had met me socially and so they phone me and asked if I’d work for them. I worked for them for nine years and the rest of the time I’ve been doing voluntary work. It’s something I feel very dedicated to.

Are there any future projects the community should be aware of to expand our Palliative Care?

Absolutely. Some months ago a committee was formed with Parry Thomas, Eileen Gordon, Gail Carew, Pittwater Councillors Kylie Ferguson and Kay Millar, also Lindsay Godfrey of Pittwater Council, Andrew Johnston from Rob Stokes’ office, Yvonne McMaster, the renowned Palliative Care physician who works so hard for Palliative Care as well as people from Hammond Care. 

What we need, and what has always been the aim from the beginning, was to have our own inpatient beds at Mona Vale Hospital. What has happened is, although thousands of people have been cared for within the community, in their homes and the care is excellent, if they’ve needed specialist hospitalisation they have had to go to Greenwich. The distance is tyrannical as it’s a time of life when families want to be together but the distance and the lack of reasonable public transport to get there has been quite distressing for people.   

We’ve always wanted to have our own specialist in-bed facility, and it is a specialist facility, at Mona Vale Hospital. In the middle ‘90’s we presented a special pea for this and were given a 12 bed Hospice but the government changed and with it a change of mind. It was taken away form us.

Quite recently the Northern Sydney Health District appointed Associate Professor Richard Chye to do an in-depth assessment of the need for Palliative Care throughout the Northern Sydney area. Coincidentally this was at the same time we formed the working group to lobby for this facility at Mona Vale. We actively lobbied that Mona Vale Hospital get a 15 to 20 bed facility. We are awaiting the imminent decision.

We understand that was a recommendation that we have a facility but we won’t know for sure until official announcements are made and Associate Professor Chye’s assessments are made available. 

Rob Stokes announced at a Talk he gave at Pittwater Probus a few weeks ago that the New South Wales Government is allotting some recurrent funding to align with any recommendations made in the assessment. It is now up to Council of the Northern Sydney Health District to determine how the Palliative Care facilities are going to be allocated throughout the Northern Sydney Area. 

We’ve worked as hard as we can towards this, and Rob Stokes has also done his utmost to support our proposal. Hopefully we will get a decision that reflects what the community from Manly to Palm Beach and to the Roseville bridge needs. 

The Zonta Northern Beaches Ladies have also had an ongoing commitment to Palliative Care at Mona Vale, raising funds for equipment donated in 2011. What was the breakfast like this year – lots of handstands and cartwheels on the RPA lawn, champagne with your weetbix?

(laughs) – No, no! It was very very exciting. The Royal Prince Alfred Dining Room was filled to capacity. Many previous Pittwater Women of the Year attended, ladies like Eileen Gordon, Patricia Giles OAM and Tamara Sloper Harding. Our Mayor, Jacqueline Townsend and Pittwater Councillors attended. My husband, who was one of the few men there remarked that everyone look lovely, he didn’t know how they could all so good that early in the morning!

They surprised me with a delegation of people I’d previously worked with at Palliative Care over the years, whom I didn’t expect to see. I felt so welcomed and so honoured. 

You asked about the champagne; I came home and lifted a bottle of Moët  out of the fridge but then thought I have to share to around with a lot more people and had a soft drink instead. We'll have the champagne soon.


From forthcoming Friends of Northern beaches Palliative Care Newsletter:


The Hon. Rob Stokes recently confirmed the NSW government's agreement to supply recurrent funding for Northern Sydney Palliative Care pursuant to  recommendations contained in an investigative report  by A/Prof Richard Chye for the Local Health District . A/Prof Chye brought to the task a broad range of expertise including positions as Director Sacred Heart Palliative Care and Director South East Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service Palliative Care. During his deliberation the recently formed Northern Beaches Palliative Care Working Group made strong representation that a special purpose Palliative Care in-patient facility be established on the Mona Vale Hospital campus. While excellent community care has been provided for twenty-five years, when specialist hospitalization is required the tyranny of distance and lack of direct public transport impose onerous burdens upon patients and families at a time of life when being together is ultimately important. The group presented the strength of  community support for the project and the unanimous endorsement by Pittwater Council (7 July 2014). We understand A/Prof Chye's resultant report to the Local Health District included a suggestion for the proposed  facility at Mona Vale. Currently allocation of the government funding and Palliative Care services in Northern Sydney  is  under consideration by the District’s Clinical Council. We anxiously await the imminent results of their deliberation and are optimistic that the Northern Beaches, from Manly to Palm Beach, will achieve the ideal of "Palliative Care being delivered close to home." A large measure of gratitude is due to The Hon. Rob Stokes for his tireless work to achieve this outcome. 


Jo-Ann and David Steeves of Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care with Meryl Godfrey, Rotary Club of Pittwater member - at Mona Vale Palliative Care Service Upgrades and Extensions  - Official Opening

Report and Pictures - A J Guesdon, 2015.