Hospice aims to bring dignity to its care

Privacy and proximity to family are priorities at nonprofit's Harwood home


Hospice of the Chesapeake, a nonprofit organization that provides care for the terminally ill, will dedicate its second residential facility July 26 in Harwood and open it to patients July 31.

The $2 million, 5,700-square-foot John & Arloine Mandrin Chesapeake Hospice House will provide round-the-clock care for up to eight patients at a time, said President and CEO Erwin E. Abrams.

"It's a recognition of an emerging need," Abrams said. "This is a function of the aging of America."

Hospice of the Chesapeake began planning for the new house six years ago in response to an increasing demand for residential care more easily accessible to patients' families south of Annapolis.

"Our social workers would say, `You know, we have someone in South County, or in Prince George's, that's saying it's too far to travel' " from the organization's other hospice house in Linthicum in northern Anne Arundel County, Abrams said.

Harwood patients will get their own bedrooms with a hospital-style bed, reclining chair, private bathroom and double sofa for family members who wish to spend the night, said Ann Marie Pessagno, the "team leader" for the Mandrin Hospice House. The facility also has an eat-in kitchen, another large sitting and dining area, a library, a meditation room, and a private entrance and exit for funeral home personnel.

Since 1979, Hospice of the Chesapeake has provided care to Anne Arundel and Prince George's residents nearing the end of their lives, primarily in the patients' own homes.

Of 230 patients, only six are served by the Linthicum facility, Abrams said, but the opening of a second house will give more people the option of residential care.

"As families are more spread out, the need for caregivers becomes more obvious," Abrams said.

About half of Hospice of the Chesapeake's patients have some form of cancer, Pessagno said, and others have neurological diseases, heart diseases or HIV. Hospice houses are the solution for many patients living with families that do not have the knowledge or resources to treat their symptoms, or for patients who would otherwise have to live alone, Pessagno said.

Hospice of the Chesapeake, which provides care regardless of a patient's ability to pay, is largely funded through Medicare and Medicaid, but the new facility was paid for entirely through community donations, Abrams said.

More than half of the money came from Jim and Katherine Mandrin, whose homebuilding company also built the new house, named in memory of Jim's parents, at a discount, Abrams said. Others donated money, goods and materials, and three Anne Arundel County residents volunteered to decorate the entire house.

The house, which took two years to build, will be headed by Pessagno, a registered nurse who has guided the process of setting up the house to fulfill the needs of patients and their families. Two certified nursing assistants will be on duty at all times, in addition to a team of volunteers.

At any given time, Hospice of the Chesapeake works with close to 500 volunteers, Abrams estimates. Some visit patients in their homes and provide services for the bereaved and others work in the Linthicum facility, providing care and helping with housekeeping, groundskeeping or office work.

Some volunteer because their lives have been touched by the hospice care of a loved one and others because the work is so rewarding, Pessagno said.

"To journey with someone, and to attempt to make the end of their life more dignified and more peaceful is just an honor and a privilege," she said.

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