Hospice celebrates 25-year anniversary

Group served more than 1,300 patients last year

Anne Arundel

April 15, 2004|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As a start-up health care organization in 1979, Hospice of the Chesapeake operated out of the dining room of one of its founders. It served four patients that first year.

Today, from offices in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, Hospice of the Chesapeake is certified by Medicare and Medicaid and operates the only residential hospice house in the two counties. Last year, the organization served more than 1,300 patients and their families, a 7 percent increase from the previous year.

"I can't imagine being in another field of nursing," says Sherrill Ross-Wieneke, a registered nurse who heads one of three teams helping those with life-threatening illnesses and their families. "There are so many days when I leave work feeling that I've gained more than I've given."

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Hospice of the Chesapeake has more than 100 full- and part-time paid personnel. They include physicians, nurses, social workers, certified nursing assistants and chaplains, providing medical care, counseling, spiritual care, practical support and bereavement services.

More than 340 trained community volunteers assist the professional staff. Last year, those volunteers donated nearly 20,000 hours to hospice.

Cindy Levin, 38, is one of the younger volunteers. She says that caring for her mother until her death led her to make the commitment to the organization.

"Our society has a fear of death and dying," says Levin, and she hopes her care will help "demystify" the process.

One of Levin's patients is 80-year-old Hazel Carroll of Annapolis, who is enthusiastic about the organization's services. "Before you realize you want something, you've got it," she says of the level of care.

The modern hospice movement, established in the late 1960s by Cecily Saunders, is intended to help those with life-threatening illnesses experience a peaceful, pain-free conclusion to life in a comfortable setting, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice concentrates on the needs of patients, families and friends.

"Patients allow us to come in at the most intimate time in their lives," says Ross-Wieneke. "Our goal is to give them dignity and allow them to leave this world in comfort, to give quality to this final chapter of life."

The idea for Hospice of the Chesapeake grew out of a 1978 lecture attended by three Severna Park residents, Martha O'Herlihy, Cecil Boyd and Fran Grauch, who heard a talk in Baltimore by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the landmark book On Death and Dying. At the time, the only hospice in the United States was Hospice of Connecticut in New Haven.

While preliminary plans were being made in Maryland, Grauch traveled to Connecticut to study hospice care firsthand.

Grauch was named the local hospice's first administrator in 1979, the year it was incorporated as Arundel Hospice. Its name was changed in 1991.

Norman Lambert joined the founders in developing programs and recruiting volunteers. Among the first health care professionals to donate their time were registered nurse Carol Bailey, social worker Katherine Bouchere and Dr. James Benjamin, who became the hospice's first medical director.

The organization's services have expanded throughout the years.

By the mid-1980s, Hospice of the Chesapeake service was being extended to those grieving the loss of a loved one. The first six-week bereavement support group was launched in 1984.

Camp Nabe, a bereavement camp for children that has gained a national reputation, opened its first summer session in 1992. Its success gave birth a decade later to Phoenix Rising, a camp for teen-agers.

The Betty Jane & Creston G. Tate Foundation Chesapeake Hospice House, opened in 1996 in Linthicum, is a residential facility for the terminally ill who are unable to live at home in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. It cared for 91 patients last year. A second hospice house is being planned.

"The growth and development of Hospice of the Chesapeake as a true community resource is ... a tribute to our volunteers and staff for having earned the confidence of patients and families," said Erwin Abrams, administrator since 1993.

Hospice of the Chesapeake's anniversary celebration is going on all year. The annual Hospice Gala last month attracted 450 attendees who donated more than $300,000.

"The task is enormous, the obstacles very common and the rewards indescribable," Grauch says.

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