The Victorian Order
of Nurses (long story of caring in Calgary)
The first president of the Calgary branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses
was Mrs. James Lougheed, wife of the senator. The board members in the early
days took their interests seriously and were often involved in driving nurses
to see patients, when transport was a problem.
in other locations, maternity patients were the main clients, although Calgary's
somewhat milder climate (for the prairies, anyway) attracted tuberculosis
sufferers too, who were often attended by the VON nurse. A good working relationship
had been established between the VON and the physicians in Calgary and many
referrals for the VON services were made. The influenza epidemic at the end
of the Great War required that VON nurses work with the City in visiting and
helping influenza victims and their families.
Funding was always a problem,
as in other centres, as grants from the City were not the same each year
(if they existed at all). The board relied heavily on fundraising event
and the support of other charitable organizations. The
board also advertised the services of the nurses, by sending out brochures
to medical and pharmaceutical personnel as well as writing newspaper articles
and doing radio spots. An interesting note is that Calgary VONs for many years
were paid much better than Edmonton VONs doing the same work under pretty well
the same conditions.
By the 1920s, the Calgary
branch was working with hospitals and was involved with child welfare work,
particularly in the form of baby clinics. Well-advertised "baby
weeks" were also held in easy to reach locations, featuring talks and exhibits,
as well as the usual weigh-ins and check-ups. Pre-natal classes were also an
important part of the VON work.
Focus for the VON was still non-paying patients, perhaps those who fell between
the cracks as far as other agencies were concerned, or those who, ill for a
long time, had depleted their savings. Cancer patients in particular were grateful
for night calls when nurses would administer pain-relieving drugs. During the
Depression the work was particularly difficult and heart wrenching, when they
were visiting families who had almost nothing and were often hungry.
The branch was always involved in educating its clients or patients, but in
the 1930s it added a formal arrangement with hospitals to give field training
to some of their nursing students.
The Second World War found the nurses in Calgary (as in Edmonton) visiting
wives and families of the men who had gone overseas. The support to these mostly
young women with young children was invaluable. At the same time the shortages
in the number of hospital beds in the city meant more work for the VON nurses
for patients convalescing at home rather than staying for the usual convalescence
after surgery in the hospital. Eventually this led to more hospital referrals
for branch even into the sixties.
Modern times in Calgary
The VON continued to expand
in Calgary and change its role in the city as needs arose. A home-care program
was proposed to the provincial and municipal governments and eventually began
in 1970. It was administered by the VON until 1976. Part of its mandate allowed
for children to have day surgery rather than being hospitalized overnight--with
the VON nurse visiting the young patient at home, later in the day.
the administration of the home-care program was taken over by first the municipal
and then the provincial government, the VON continued to provide its nursing
services. The general nursing strike in 1982 led to big changes as nursing
salaries increased substantially, and the always struggling board had to reconsider
its program. After the VON nurses' own strike three years later, the board
decided to change from providing nursing services to providing home health "aides",
supervised by a VON nurse.
VON continues to help individuals, families and organizations by providing
a range of health, wellness and community support services such as foot care,
meals-on-wheels, respite and palliative care, and community integration of
Home visiting nursing is VON's best-known service. Many people with long or short-term
illness, or those who have just had surgery are able to remain or recover at
home instead of in hospital because of a wide range of home health services offered
by VON. These include companion services, homemaking services and personal care