The option to die at home is one of the hallmarks of hospice care. But for some patients, being home at the end of life is just not possible. Perhaps the patient lives alone. Or his spouse also is ill. Or the patient’s pain requires constant medical monitoring.
For the past 30 years, southeastern Kentuckians who needed a hospice facility in which to live their final days have had to travel to Lexington, Louisville, or beyond — far from family, friends, and their own doctors.
That changes on May 3.
Hospice of the Bluegrass- Mountain Community is opening a 12-suite Hospice Care Center in Hazard. The center will provide a home-like atmosphere for terminally ill patients and their families. The staff will include experts in pain care: doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers, aides, and others.
“I am so glad for this,” says Elwood Cornett, 72, a minister and lifelong Letcher County resident. “I’ve seen the value of a hospice care center first-hand, and I think everyone should have the choice.”
Cornett’s first-hand experience involved the 2005 death of his brother, Clell. Clell was living in Louisville at the time, hospitalized with late-stage lung cancer. “I was with him a lot, and I saw that his pain wasn’t under control,” recalled Cornett, who serves Mount Olivet Old Regular Baptist Church in Blackey.
The problem: hospice care wasn’t available within the hospital. Home hospicecare also was not an option because Clell had no family able to care for him at home.
Fortunately, Louisville had a hospice care center. So Cornett moved his brother there, where Clell was cared for by hospice staff until his death 10 days later. Cornett says that his beloved brother died peacefully, without pain. Ever since, he has wanted a hospice care center in southeastern Kentucky.
“ Most people would rather die at home,” Cornett says. “But when that’s not possible, they shouldn’t have to die in pain.”
Linda Dunn of Hazard also is thrilled at the prospect of the new hospice care center. She has been involved in local hospice care for about 30 years — since one of her customers at Linda D’s Beauty Salon decided to organize the area’s first hospice. Since then, Dunn has raised money for hospice through bake sales, quilt raffles, and craft projects. She has also styled the hair of terminally ill patients, delivered food to their homes, and sat at their bedsides.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that she realized how important it was to bring a hospice care center to Hazard. That’s when Dunn’s stepfather, James Cruz ‘Pap’ Baker, died peacefully in the Hospice of the Bluegrass Hospice Care Center in Lexington.
Dunn, now 61, says her stepdad’s care was wonderful — so good that she immediately wanted this kind of care to be available in Hazard. “ I remember the way the staff smiled, touched me, and said, ‘Even though this is going to be hard, we’ll help you get through it.’ They showed me how to moisten Pap’s lips, cool his brow, make him comfortable.”
Dunn says that she thinks everyone should have the option for hospice care in their homes, but adds: “You can’t be 90 years old, trying to move your husband around. There comes a time when some patients can’t stay at home.”
Monica Couch, director of Hospice of the Bluegrass- Mountain Community, agrees. The hospice currently provides home-hospice care to 60 to 70 patients a day in seven counties: Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Morgan, Perry and Wolfe. Having the Hospice Care Center, Couch says, “will provide a valuable option” for families who can’t take care of their loved ones at home.
The facility is located on Dennis Sandlin MD Cove Hazard, near Hazard Appalachian Regional Medical Center. “We’ll provide cutting edge care, and the atmosphere is serene,” Couch says. “There is a lot of green space and walkways. There’s a small stream that runs against the mountain that has cattails and trees in it. It’s a place of peace.”
Hospice of the Bluegrass- Mountain Community continues to seek contributions to support the facility, and both Cornett and Dunn have made donations. Dunn says that she is happy to have the facility for her community — and for herself. “It comforts me to know that at some point, if I should need this place, it’s here.” She is also especially excited about the volunteer opportunities available at the new Hospice Care Center.
To make a contribution, send checks to Hospice of the Bluegrass- Mountain Community, 57 Dennis Sandlin MD Cove, Hazard, KY 41701, or donate online at www.hospicebg.org.