Opening of Campus Fulfills Dream for FirstHealth Hospice
It's been more than 30 years, but the memory of her first patient with the recently organized Sandhills Hospice still strikes an emotional chord with Charlotte Patterson.
The patient, a 45-year-old mother of four, was dying of cancer, and Patterson was one of a handful of volunteer nurses with the fledgling and very shoestring hospice operation. The U.S. hospice movement was barely a decade old, and the concept of hospice care was virtually unknown in rural Moore County. But Dr. David Allen, a local cancer specialist, had seen a need and taken the lead in getting a local hospice program started.
"Dr. Allen and a small group of volunteers started the program," Patterson says. "The concept of hospice was unknown at that time in this community."
Patterson, the director of what is now FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care for the past 12 years, has seen the organization through a variety of changes, including the 1996 merger of Sandhills Hospice with FirstHealth of the Carolinas. This fall, she will observe yet another milestone with the opening of the new FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care campus.
A community open house, marking the culmination of a community's dream, is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22.
The afternoon will include tours of the Hospice and Palliative Care campus, which includes the Hospice House, Chapel, FirstHealth Grief Resource and Counseling Center and administrative building. Light refreshments will be served.
"A lot of people have been working on this for a long time," Patterson says.
The three-building FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care campus is on 30-plus acres of wooded, lake-front property on Campground Road, just off U.S. 15-501 north of Pinehurst. The land, once the site of an RV campground, was a partial gift from former owners James and Michelle Kirkpatrick.
Central to the campus is the 11-bed, 16,000-square-foot Hospice House that is designed as an acute-care facility for short-term pain-management and symptom control of patients. According to Dr. Ellen Willard, the medical oncologist and hematologist who succeeded Allen as hospice medical director, the Hospice House fills a much-needed niche in FirstHealth's "spectrum of care."
"The Hospice House is for patients who need treatment that can't be provided at home and that might previously have been provided in a hospital setting," Willard says. "These patients need medical treatment and access to skilled personnel as opposed to residential beds for (end-of-life) custodial care."
The community has needed acute-care hospice service for a long time, Willard says.
"I have been hoping for this for so long," she says. "This is a need this community has had for years, and there are a lot of people who recognized that need. It supports current services as part of (FirstHealth's) continuum of care, and it's been a long time coming."
Another building on the campus will house the FirstHealth Grief Resource and Counseling Center as well as offices for the administrative and professional staff. Available to anyone - from children to older adults - in the community, the programs and counseling services of the Grief Resource and Counseling Center are open to those who are dealing with life-altering illness or are facing the death of a loved one as well as those who have already suffered a loss.
Hospice involvement is not necessary to be eligible for services, which are offered for individuals or in group settings.
The third building on the campus is a free-standing, nondenominational chapel intended for individual reflection as well as functions related to hospice-provided services. Capacity for the 1,000-square-foot building is 50 seated people.
Pinehurst resident Charlie McWilliams serves on the board of trustees of the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation and chaired chapel fundraising efforts. He says a chapel was always a part of the "master plan" for the hospice campus, but was not originally scheduled for the first construction phase.
"The chapel was more of a dream for the whole campus," he says.
As construction progressed, however, and financing for the two other buildings fell quickly into place, campus planners began to recognize the immediate need for a place where patients and their visitors could spend time in quiet reflection or where services memorializing family or community grief and loss might be held.
"It's primarily designed for people to go and reflect," McWilliams says. "When you lose a loved one, there are times when you just want to be by yourself and you need a place to do that."
McWilliams knows personally about the unique needs of hospice patients and families. His wife Barbara was briefly a hospice patient before her death in October 2004.
"When you walk through that journey, there's a cloud over you," he says. "You think you know what you're doing, you think you know what decisions need to be made, but you don't. You're walking through an area you don't want to be in. People from hospice are there, because they want to be there, because that's what they do. They become very sensitive to your needs, because they understand what is happening."
The new Hospice House will fill short-term patient and family needs in a home-like setting where their comfort is assured and their care is quickly and professionally addressed, McWilliams says.
"We're very fortunate to have a situation like that," he says, "not a hospital, but with all the qualifications and certifications of a hospital if need be. It's not a place where you want to be, but it's a place where you can be and know that your loved one will be comfortable.
"It's through the good gifts and great philanthropy of this community that we have been able to do this. It just continues to amaze me how much gets done in this small community. We are very blessed."
Anyone needing more information can call (910) 715-6000 or (866) 861-7485 toll-free.
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