Stumped – Kingston’s Providence Care erases memorial to former staff

Terry Haffner with the stump of the tree planted in his father's memory.

Terry Haffner with the stump of the tree planted in his father’s memory.

“It felt like digging up his grave,” said Terry Haffner.

A housekeeper at Kingston’s Providence Care, Haffner was disturbed to find a memorial garden to long-serving staff had been cut down and the plaques removed by the hospital without any notice to the families of the deceased or the union who had represented them.

One of those deceased staff members was Terry’s dad Neil, who had worked at the former Kingston Psychiatric hospital from 1961 to his retirement in 1993. Neil passed away in 1996.

When Neil’s tree was planted, his son kept it watered and tended in the early days until it grew hardy enough to withstand the extremes in weather so close to the lake.

It was Terry’s father who told him to apply for a job at the mental health centre in the 1980s. His dad recognized that the heavy construction work his son was doing at the time would be difficult to maintain as he got older. For many years they travelled to work together.

The father of six kids, Neil worked several jobs to support his family.

Neil was well-liked at the hospital and cared deeply for his patients. Terry speaks about having the occasional extra guest for Christmas dinner as Neil would bring home a patient who otherwise had nowhere else to go.

“He treated clients like family,” he said.

Last year an arborist had come to assess all the trees on the hospital grounds, including those planted in memory of staff who had dedicated their careers in the service of others.

The union knew that the memorial stood in the way of a parking lot planned for the new privately developed rehab/psychiatric hospital. The union local had understood that while some trees could not be transplanted, many could.

Instead in late March all the trees in the memorial garden had been simply cut down, the plaques bearing the names of Neil Haffner and other long service workers taken away.

Terry says the garden had been well used – the hospital hosted everything from nursing week events to strawberry socials at that site.

To many long serving staff at the union local it feels like Providence Care is trying to erase the past.

Given the affiliation between the Catholic Archdiocese and the hospital, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has written the Archbishop of Kingston asking for help in making it right.

“The insensitive manner in which this has been handled has damaged more than trees and plaques,” writes Thomas. “Many of the staff and family connected to the garden are deeply upset by this unexpected turn of events.”

OPSEU is asking that the hospital and church involve staff and families around planning a new memorial garden on the grounds of the redeveloped hospital. The union is also asking the hospital to investigate and provide both an explanation and an apology to the families involved.

Local 431 President Dan Anderson said had they not taken away the plaques first there might have been some questions asked before the memorial trees had been all cut down.

Terry says had he known the fate of his dad’s tree, he might have transplanted it to his own property. Now only the stumps remain.

The memorial garden began in 1989, but it’s been several years since the last tree was planted. The last tree honored Brian Boyd, a 38-year-old housekeeper who had died in 2005 while still employed at the centre.

8 responses to “Stumped – Kingston’s Providence Care erases memorial to former staff

  1. Absolutely incredible that providence care would do this. I remember as a manager in housekeeping during those yrs that the trees and plaques were put up , and every one of those trees were planted for very special people and staff throughout the hospital all chipped in to get this done. A lot of feelings were put into the park itself , housekeeping as a group were some of the first people to add a plaque, we also collected moneys during housekeeping week that was put into the park. My father in law , local artist James woods donated a framed print of his award winning water colour depicting the many highlights of the city of Kingston . I myself picked this out of the garbage pile from the old gift shop. Originally it was donated to the patient library…… Guess there is not enough room in there anymore.. I now hang it proudly in my shop in the basement.
    Hard to believe how little care for the people working there and the intsitution of care that was home to so many people for,so many years. It makes me so sad to see it fall so far down .
    I DO KNOW That there still a lot of us who care and love the patients and even the old building and ways of life , so easily dismissed

  2. Ted Lake - retired employee

    I feel so terrible that they cut the trees down and took away the plaques… this tells you that the new Providence Care really doesn’t care,,, it is all about money! hopefully they will keep the benches that are out and about the yard. they probably think that putting in new trees will help ease the pain for all the Kingston psych workers that have been there for so long. I Ted lake knew all the staff that passed away… they will not be forgotten in our hearts and minds… this is just the beginning… good luck in the future!

  3. Kendra Henley

    That is very sad, the press need to hear about this! People have no idea how the managent of this hospital operate! If they knew half of what happens at that institution they might not be donating precious dollars to an organization that clearly doesn’t care!

  4. The NOW Generation need to stop – think and evaluate any new decisions they may think is very important to past memories that their fore generation have established. They will find in time – this could also happen to them and they need to show respect for those have have been here before them.

  5. they only worry about the all mighty dollar and thats it plain and simple, DISGUSTING

  6. Kendra Pople-Easton

    Providence Care should be ashamed of itself. The least they should have done is to notify the family then transplant the tree. What a shame. I am so sorry for. The family.

  7. Sad, very sad

    Oh boy, thinking of Neil and the others does take you back
    I had just turned 19 when I started at the Ontario Hospital [O.H.] 43 years ago
    I was a civil servant doing my tiny little bit for the people of Ontario and the patients at the O.H.
    How naïve. Given the present attitude toward the civil service and all those helping people who are ill or in need, I am almost ashamed to say that
    Back then, the hospitals goal and plan wasn’t plastered around the building for all to see, it wasn’t in print for stake holders and it wasn’t vetted by lawyers but it was simple, the patients come first
    Provide the best care and quality of life possible with the funds available
    How did we function with an attitude like that, amazing
    There was no mission statement
    There was no thought of ensuring care and quality of life meets and only meets “minimum standards”
    It’s funny to think that back in the day, the only people in that hospital at risk of a “vision” may have been a patient or two
    People were not paid huge amounts of money “planning to plan”
    No one in that building was on the sunshine list until after divestment, I think some one said to save money, now how many are there ? a dozen, a hundred, more
    Front line staff were not laid off, effectiveness, quality, self and professional respect, workplace pride, patient and staff safety reduced while management ranks increase
    The food, remember the food, no you won’t believe me
    The meals were better than you could make at home
    The building seemed to be cleaner and better maintained but with the departments that cared for it cut in half or less, is that a wonder
    I remember a director of nursing, they live not far from me, who new every patient in that building on sight, by name and actually stopped in the halls and talked to them, how you doing, are you ok, how’s your family
    Staff were managed, disciplined and yes, even fired but maybe, just maybe with a little more care to not embarrass, ridicule and degrade them in the process
    I could go on at length
    I am trying to say that the hospital wore a more kind and gentle face, a more human face towards the patients in it’s care and especially it’s employee’s
    So, what does the future of the old O.H. hold, a wonderful new building, void of staff that will insert a multi million dollar suppository into the bums of the Ontario tax payer so that a few investors can make 12 percent per year profit for decades to come

    To Neil and the rest, fondly remembered

  8. i could not of said that better kenny,,,,you speak of the human face…i love that…I loved my career at the good ole KPHer,,,and Neil you taught me well when i was a new nurse there…i want to help restore this lovely garden area where i used to sit for many times in 25 years..sometimes with my guitar and sometimes with my patients and sometimes with my colleagues but mostly with me and my fond memories of everyone left behind…and dreaming of whats to come…i did not know then it would be CHOPPED!!!..please add me to any restoration efforts…NAMASTE

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