When interior design matters: inside the Serious Illness Conversation room

The story behind the Serious Illness Conversation room

When Omer Casher flew to Montreal from the United Kingdom to have a Serious Illness Conversation about his terminally ill mom, he braced himself for the worst. The hour-long discussion was going to broach difficult topics – convalescence, rehabilitation, palliative care – but which option was best for his beloved parent? Omer crossed the doors of the internal medicine unit at the Montreal General Hospital (MGH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), with a racing chest, but an unexpected calmness overcame him when he stepped inside the room.

“The first thing I noticed was the colour on the walls,” he recalls. “It was warm, and very different from your usual hospital setting.”

Unbeknownst to Omer, Christina Miousse, nurse manager with over 30 years’ experience at the MUHC, had just revamped the space from office to designated Serious Illness Conversation room.

“I wanted to give families a place that felt intentional,” Christina explains. “I want them to feel like the medical team has come to their home.”

With the help of the MGH Patients’ Committee, Christina’s dream became a reality.

Christina Miousse
Christina Miousse, nurse manager, is the visionary behind the Serious Illness Conversation room.

Like a living room

Inside the Serious Illness Conversation room, the glow of café-coloured paint conjures an ambiance of security. Black leather seating provides a sophisticated touch, and matching coffee and end tables add a depth of familiarity. Scenic photography and accent pieces ornament every corner. Then there’s Omer’s favourite part, the window.

“We were blessed with a gorgeous view of the sky and the trees,” Omer remembers.

When asked if the design of the room made any kind of difference to the conversation, Omer answers a confident yes.

“The atmosphere absolutely made the conversation easier,” he says. “I felt seen and heard by those caring for my mother.”

Before this designated room, Serious Illness Conversations took place all around the unit in conference rooms or in the hallway. Families could find themselves surrounded by medical paraphernalia while discussing the future of a loved one.

“I didn’t like this inconsistent approach,” Christina says. “In this new room, there are no distractions. I hope families feel at ease.”

Compassion in action

Since launching the Serious Illness Conversation room on September 6, Christina realized the space is conducive to other difficult discussions. Now, the room hosts discharge planning and placement issue discussions in addition to Serious Illness Conversations.

 “I want to do whatever I can to show families I’m thinking about them,” she says. “We cannot underestimate the deep emotional impact illness has on them.”

This kind of compassion was also demonstrated by the MGH Patients’ Committee, who not only funded the room but showed up early to set up furniture the same day it arrived.

Patricia Kerr, Tom McCutcheon, Heather Allen Evan
Patricia Kerr, Tom McCutcheon, and Heather Allen Evan from the MGH Patients’ Committee.

“The endeavour of the MGH Patients’ Committee is to improve the experience of patients and their families during times of hardship,” says Thomas McCutcheon, member of the MGH Patients’ Committee. Thomas also highlights that the committee chose the warm colour on the walls in lieu of the usual hospital white.

It is the MUHC’s sincere wish that all those who find themselves visiting loved ones in our hospitals experience the welcome and respect that the Serious Illness Conversation room fosters.