After 17 years, Suzanne Lehbauer is resigning her position as executive director of the Castlegar Hospice Society. Photo: Betsy Kline

After 17 years, Suzanne Lehbauer is resigning her position as executive director of the Castlegar Hospice Society. Photo: Betsy Kline

Long-time Castlegar Hospice director says farewell to Castlegar

Suzanne Lehbauer is known as a community champion and advocate

One of Castlegar’s most compassionate and well-known community members is saying farewell to the city and her role as the executive director of the Castlegar Hospice Society.

Suzanne Lehbauer has been steering the ship at Castlegar Hospice for seventeen years, but she has now set her sails on a new course that leads her closer to family.

“I am looking forward to a new chapter — new work, new life, new city,” Lehbauer told Castlegar News.

Lehbauer’s job is not an easy one at the best of times — she usually sees clients at the most difficult times of their lives as she helps them through the dying and grieving processes.

But working in the field during the COVID pandemic made things even more difficult and Lehbauer says that trudging through that period definitely played a role in her decision to leave.

“After COVID, it all kind of hits you. During that time you are just going, you are thinking on your feet. And then there is a day when everything hits you and you think, ‘Wow, it’s time.’

“So many people in health care worked through COVID and now that we are looking for support, it’s not necessarily there because people don’t want to think about it any more. A lot of us haven’t dealt with everything that happened to us during that time.”

That’s why Lehbauer says she knew it was time to move on before she totally burnt out. She hasn’t completely ruled out working in health care or hospice in the future, but is looking for a position with a different type of role.

RELATED: Castlegar hospice director says COVID-19 measures make serving the dying heartbreaking

Under her leadership, Castlegar Hospice has become known for innovative approaches, including a virtual reality program that garnered national and international attention.

Hospice has also been recognized numerous times in the social service category at the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Awards.

Lehbauer herself received a Health Care Hero award in 2021 and has been recognized four times with the B.C. Hospice and Palliative Care Association’s Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem award.

“I am proud of the work I have done. I am proud of the programs we have, the recognition we have received, the place that we are,” said Lehbauer.

But Lehbauer says Castlegar Hospice is what it is because of the whole team.

In fact, it’s that team that Lehbauer lists as one of the accomplishments she is most proud of.

“They are incredible,” said Lehbauer. “It has been my honour to work with them.”

Other highlights Lehbauer lists include the virtual reality program, animatronic animals, wind phone and the organization’s grief and bereavement programs.

“Those are great things for the community … they are there for the whole community to use.”

Lehbauer says the whole community needs the Hospice Society whether they recognize it or not.

“The services that are provided really affect everyone. When people are given the proper support, whether it is in palliative care or bereavement, it affects the rest of their lives as well, whether it is at work or their health. It all affects all of us — it’s like a great big domino affect.”

Along with the accomplishments there have been struggles along the way including the ever-present fight for funding.

Interior Health only supplies 11 per cent of the organization’s current budget, which Lehbauer says is only about one-third of what the budget really should be. That leaves a lot of the budget to local fundraising.

There is one big dream of Lehbauer’s that remains unfulfilled — creating a dedicated hospice facility in Castlegar. That project stalled due to a lack of commitment from the health authority to fund operational costs like it does in more populated areas.

She says that is her biggest disappointment from her time here.

“It’s really hard to see her go,” said hospice president Peggy Guindon. “I don’t think we will ever find anyone who is willing to give as much of themselves to the position. She is there for the clients, she is there for the volunteers. She gives beyond what her job is.”

The main focus of hospice is supporting clients in palliative care and bereavement, and Lehbauer says that work will continue without her once she leaves at the end of August.

Lehbauer has some parting wishes for the community and the society she has served for almost two decades.

“I hope that the community continues to support hospice however they go forward in all of their endeavours. I hope whoever is on our board or working with our clients continues to fight the good fight and continues to advocate.”

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