Whitesburg KY

New inpatient Hospice facility being constructed in Hazard

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’s about to change.

Hospice of the Bluegrass- Mountain Community has begun construction on a 12- bed, inpatient hospice facility in Hazard. Scheduled to open in winter 2010, the facility will provide a homelike 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, 71, a minister and lifelong Letcher County resident. “I’ve seen the value of an inpatient hospice facility firsthand, and I think everyone should have the choice.”

Cornett’s firsthand 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 the hospital wasn’t keeping his pain under control,” recalled Cornett, who serves Mount Olivet Old Regular Baptist Church in Blackey. “The doctors explained to me that in a hospital setting, they couldn’t give him the right dose of pain medication; only hospice could do that.”

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 has an inpatient hospice facility. So Cornett moved his brother there, where Clell was cared for by hospice staff until his death 10 days later. Cornett says his beloved brother died peacefully, without pain. Ever since, he has wanted a hospice inpatient facility 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 inpatient hospice facility. 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 an inpatient hospice facility to Hazard. That’s when Dunn’s stepfather, James Cruz Baker (also known as “Pap”), died peacefully in the Hospice of the Bluegrass inpatient facility in Lexington.

Dunn, now 60, says her stepdad’s inpatient 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 an inpatient facility, Couch says, “will provide a valuable option” for families who can’t take care of their loved ones at home.

The facility is being built on Miss Edna Lane in Hazard, next to Appalachian Regional Medical Center. “It’s going to be cutting-edge when it comes to care, and it’s going to have a serene atmosphere,” Couch says. “There will be lots of green space and walkways. There’s a small stream that runs against the mountain that has cattails and trees in it. It will be a place of peace.”

The new facility costs $6.5 million. Nearly $1 million has been raised so far. Hospice of the Bluegrass-Mountain Community continues to seek contributions, and both Cornett and Dunn have made donations. Dunn says that she wants 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.”

To make a contribution, send checks to Hospice of the Bluegrass-Mountain Community, 3115 N. Main St., Hazard, Ky., 41701, or donate online at www.hospicebg.org.

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