40 years of caring for patients and families

“I like to think I give the best I can,” says Sarah Matthews modestly, after dedicating 40 years of her life to caring for patients and families at Rowcroft Hospice. As one of our wonderful Senior Healthcare Assistants, Sarah began her journey with Rowcroft when she was just 15 years old – at that time she was affectionately known as ‘The Child’ by Rowcroft staff! Four decades on and Sarah is still working at the hospice, still giving her all to her patients and families, and still smiling. We couldn’t be prouder of our shining star and we’re delighted to introduce you to her here.

“I joined the hospice in 1982 at the age of 15 as a volunteer,” says Sarah. “I wanted to gain some work experience at the hospice as I had initially hoped to go into nursing in the army. As a volunteer, my main role was making the teas and coffees for patients, and I also ironed all the nurses’ cotton aprons which were starched white.

“Two years later and I was offered a job at the hospice as a full-time auxillary nurse. I trained on the job and I remember learning about ‘moving and handling’ on my first shift. I was very ‘green’ at the time – at only 17 years old – and the staff took me under their wing beautifully, training me on the job and mentoring me. They were brilliant teachers and the nurses were very protective of me. They used to call me ‘The Child’ because I was so young in comparison to everyone else – some colleagues joke by still calling me that today!

“The hospice was so different in those days – we didn’t offer the complex care that we do today. Patients generally stayed a lot longer in the Inpatient Unit, often for weeks or months before getting discharged to go home.  I remember we even had one patient stay in for over a year! Today our working patterns are very different with many staff working part-time.

“I would also say we’re a much more specialist unit now. We have people coming in for highly complex care and this may include a wide range of specialist medical procedures such as blood transfusions, which we didn’t do in the early days. Now, many of our patients receive specialist care at home prior to coming to the Inpatient Unit – so they come in when they can no longer be cared for at home.

“Rowcroft has always been a lovely place to work, it’s so friendly. Many people have preconceptions of the hospice as a dark and gloomy place; they don’t realise that a lot of our patients get well enough to go home again. And we make the hospice as homely as possible, so that people can feel relaxed. It’s a very different environment from what you find in hospital; it’s much calmer, less hectic and more peaceful.

“I’ve always enjoyed my role, helping to make life easier for my patients. The part I like best is spending time with my patients because I really love talking to people. I’m genuinely interested in everyone – some might say I’m nosey! But everyone’s got a story to tell, and I love hearing all about people’s lives – it’s fascinating!

“One of my funniest memories is of Murphy the goat, who lived onsite in the paddock. My colleague Heather loved animals and I’ll never forget the time she went to feed Murphy and he head-butted her! Murphy kept escaping from his paddock and coming into the hospice through the fire escape door, and then that cheeky goat would be trotting down the corridor! Sometimes he’d travel further afield and one day he ended up in a garden in Chelston eating their flowers! We had geese here at Rowcroft too at one point, but sadly the fox got them. And we had two black fluffy cats – Tiny and George – who lived here in the hospice and wandered around the ward. It was always lovely for the patients to see the animals. The donkeys from the sanctuary also used to come and visit and the patients loved to see them. Hopefully we can do that again soon.

“Thinking back to Ella Rowcroft and her legacy of leaving this house for the care of the community, I’d be interested to know what she would think of our hospice. I hope she would be happy.”

For further information about Rowcroft’s 40th anniversary celebrations and our 40-year timeline, please click here.

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