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.

As 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.

Even after 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.

The 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 services.

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 services.
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