“I had never encountered someone dying before,” recalled Durango resident Jane Pearson.
Pearson and her husband had just finished dinner when suddenly she felt compelled to visit a close friend in the hospital who was dying of cancer. When the couple arrived, her friend had taken a turn for the worse, inciting the fear and confusion that often surrounds the death of a loved one. Family members were crowded in the hall, her friend’s husband had fallen into deep grief and the nurses were ill-prepared to handle end-of-life care.
Pearson now is a chairwoman for Mercy’s soon-to-be hospice care center, a service her friend could have used that night.
“There are so many people that don’t have a place to die.”
In Durango and La Plata County, there are some options for end-of-life care, including nursing homes, in-home hospice, and in extreme cases, a bed in a hospital room. But an in-residency hospice center has never been available.
That’s about to change, as Mercy Regional Medical Center nears its $5.3 million fundraising goal to build the area’s first-ever hospice care center. Officials for the project, who said they’ve raised $4.4 million so far, expect to break ground this spring, and in the process, bring a long-needed asset to the community.
“We get to a place at the end of life where it just gets too hard to care for a loved one at home,” said Tina Gallegos, director of Mercy Home Care and a registered nurse. “This residence can provide 24-hour care to help the patient into their next journey in life.”
The modern hospice movement began in the mid-20th century as health providers began focusing on assisting terminally ill patients comfortably through death, rather than battling the disease itself. The theory of care includes a blend of mitigating pain, while tending to the emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and the patient’s family.
Mercy’s hospice center, unofficially called Hospice of Mercy Experience (HOME), will house eight to 10 patients in a 10,900-square-foot building at the hospital’s location in Three Springs.
Officials at Mercy say the timing’s right for such a facility to serve Southwest Colorado. With recent projections estimating the number of households composed of people 65 or older more than doubling – from 5,500 to 11,000 – by 2040 in La Plata County, the increase of seniors will create a higher demand for care in the area.
“The numbers are just astonishing,” said Karen Midkiff, chief development officer for HOME. “So we feel we’re being visionary doing this now, rather than waiting till later.”
Midkiff said studies show eight to 10 rooms will meet the community’s needs for “many, many years” to come.
The campaign for the hospice center took on a personal tone for Midkiff, whose husband suffered from dementia.
One night, after an acute episode, her husband was rushed to the emergency room. Midkiff, realizing the realities of the situation, knew it would take an in-patient hospice to appropriately care for him. But that choice wasn’t available.
“The only option was to occupy a bed at the hospital,” she said. “The hospital staff was great, but they are used to caring for people who are going to heal. That’s where my passion to get this facility built and open comes from. It is just critical to the families in need of something like this.”
Officials for Mercy’s hospice center said planners emphasized the need for the facility to feel like home, both for the comfort of the patient and the family. Each patient will have a private, approximately 480-square-foot room with a patio, and access to several common areas.
“These families can use the residence like it is their home, yet have access to all the amenities of the hospital,” said Joy Hess, development officer for HOME.
Room and board at Mercy’s hospice is not covered by Medicaid. Officials said prices have not been set but are expected to be comparable with similar services in the area, such as Cottonwood Inn Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center, which charges $260 a night.
Pearson said HOME not only fills a gap in the health care continuum, it also opens up the discussion and preparation surrounding death, which is sometimes difficult to have.
“Death is not a dinner table conversation,” she said. “And I think it goes into our whole society’s view that maybe we’ll escape the inevitable, but it’s going to happen to all of us. And hospice helps so many people come to terms with this thing called death.”