New hospice 'is about living' Amenities: The Hospice of Baltimore says its new Gilchrist Center is the region's first hospice built from scratch and has a "country manor" atmosphere.

Urban Landscape

August 01, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

SOME PEOPLE think of a hospice as a place for dying.

To Carol Peltier, it's just the opposite.

"It's about living," she says. "We're all about living every minute until you die."

Peltier is the chief executive officer of Hospice of Baltimore, an organization that helps terminally ill patients live their final days with dignity.

Since its founding 2 1/2 years ago, Hospice of Baltimore has operated a home care program through which nurses have treated more than 800 patients where they live.

This week, it began a new phase of service when it opened the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care, an $8.3 million, 24-bed facility that provides an alternative to home care.

Gilchrist Center, at 6601 N. Charles St. near Towson, is not the region's first hospice. But administrators say it is the first designed and built from scratch to care for terminally ill patients, as opposed to a hospice converted from some other use.

"The Gilchrist Center will provide a cost-effective alternative for terminally ill patients who require inpatient care," Peltier said. With nearly 30 percent of terminally ill Americans and 50 percent of patients with end-stage cancer choosing a hospice program over other treatment, "we need to ensure that these individuals receive compassionate, quality care," Peltier said.

Hospice of Baltimore is a subsidiary of GBMC HealthCare Inc., which also operates the Greater Baltimore Medical Center at 6701 N. Charles St. Its programs, including Gilchrist, accept patients referred from physicians affiliated with medical institutions throughout the region, not just GBMC.

For a patient to be eligible, a doctor must certify that to the best of his or her knowledge, the patient has less than six months to live.

The majority of patients at Gilchrist will have cancer. Others will have human immuno- deficiency virus, or diseases of the heart, lungs, brain or liver. According to the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission, the need for local hospice services is growing at 11 percent a year.

If given a chance, Peltier said, most terminally ill patients would prefer to die at home. But that's not always possible because patients may be in severe pain or have symptoms that require round-the-clock treatment.

"In the old days, there would be family members to take care of things," she said. "We don't have that anymore."

Gilchrist Center was designed to provide an atmosphere that is more "homelike" than most medical institutions.

Robert Kowal, chief executive officer of GBMC HealthCare, said planners visited hospices in San Diego and Dayton, Ohio, in their search for ideas.

"A hospice doesn't really provide treatment," he said. "It provides amenities that bring dignity to a person's dying. The idea here was to make it like a country manor as much as possible and still address the institutional needs."

The exterior has a pitched slate roof and walls of Patapsco River stone. The interior features Shaker-style furniture and large windows that let in plenty of natural light. Every patient room has French doors that provide access to a balcony or patio.

Common living areas include a kitchen where families can cook for patients, a dining room, lounges where visitors can spend the night and a chapel for events such as baptisms and weddings. Most medical equipment is concealed as much as possible. The grounds contain fountains, trellises and gardens planted to lure butterflies and hummingbirds.

Part of the objective was to enable patients to get outdoors and see deer and other living creatures in the surrounding countryside, Peltier said.

"It's an ideal spot," she said. "There are a lot of things here that remind people they are still alive. That's the goal -- to show that it's not all doom and gloom. There are still things to enjoy."

Marks, Thomas & Associates of Baltimore was the architect, with Faith Nevins as principal in charge. Robert Berman of Johnson-Berman of Baltimore was the interior designer.

Gilchrist Center was built with private funds donated by individuals and groups. The largest gift -- $4.75 million -- came from Jeanne Gilchrist Vance, president of the board of directors of the Hospice of Baltimore. Gilchrist Center was named in memory of her maternal grandfather, Ralph Gilchrist, and other members of the family.

For most patients, costs of about $490 a day are covered by insurance. Kowal said about 15 percent of Gilchrist Center's patients will be people who cannot pay for their treatment.

In addition to the patient rooms and common areas, the lower level contains administrative offices for Hospice of Baltimore's staff of 85. A formal opening will be held at 5: 30 p.m. Sept. 19.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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