Goodworks: Hospice is a father's legacy, a child's need

Dr. Bob's Place being built to offer comfort to families

  • Dr. John Irwin, left, is the volunteer medical director of Dr. Bob's Place, MarylandÂ’s first hospice exclusively for children. The facility, scheduled to open this fall, is named for his father, Dr. Robert Irwin, a pediatrician who helped the All Saints Sisters of the poor open Joseph Richey Hospice and served as its first medical director.
Dr. John Irwin, left, is the volunteer medical director of Dr.… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
February 28, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

Maryland's first hospice exclusively for children is now rising in Baltimore.

Called Dr. Bob's Place, this $4.6 million facility will be a place where terminally sick children and their families can spend some of their final days together in a calm setting, away from beeping hospital monitors. Its creators say it will be a place of consolation and harmony after normal medical treatment can do no more.

"It will be as much about the family as the patient," said Dr. John Irwin, the hospice's volunteer medical director. "There is a spiritual component here."

Dr. Bob's Place is going up at 838 N. Eutaw St. and is visible from Martin Luther King Boulevard. It is adjacent to the Joseph Richey Hospice, an adult facility that has served Baltimore for the past three decades.

"A lot of the money we raised came from little people writing small checks," said Irwin. "People are blown away by this tiny place on Eutaw Street."

Dr. Bob's Place will provide 10 private rooms, as well as public rooms and play areas. When it opens in the fall, it will provide hospice services to children in residence and those who stay at home.

Irwin is looking to sign up 30 pediatricians to be of service one day a month at the new hospice.

"Maybe a child is just beyond treatment," Irwin said. "The family can come together here for a time of bonding and love."

The original Richey Hospice was founded in 1980 by Mount Calvary Church and the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, whose Episcopalian nuns donated $500,000 to the construction of Dr. Bob's Place. Other grants came from the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland and the France-Merrick Foundation.

The hospice's namesake is Dr. Robert Irwin, a pediatrician who helped the sisters open the Richey Hospice and served as its first volunteer medical director. He died in 2000, and now his son, Dr. John Irwin, is succeeding him in the new children's hospice venture.

Creating a pediatric hospice was Robert Irwin's "fondest dream," and one that was incorporated in the Joseph Richey mission from its start, said Charlotte Hawtin, executive director of the Joseph Richey Hospice.

In developing the new facility, the hospice staff was guided by a report issued by the Maryland Pediatric Palliative Care Summit, presented by Johns Hopkins Children's Center's Harriet Lane Compassionate Care Program.

"Of the 44,000 people who die each year in the state of Maryland, fewer than 1,000 are children," according to the summit report, which used records showing that in a one-year period, 898 children died, 62 percent younger than 1 year old.

Unintentional injury was the primary cause of death for all children, but cancer ranks second and congenital malformation ranks second for children under age 1.

"First and foremost is the need to develop the best means to alleviate end-of-life pain," said Hawtin. "National studies show over 85 percent of dying children have great pain in their final weeks of life."

Hawtin said that for older children's families, the hospice will offer a chance to take a break and have a child cared for in a safe place. "We offer a respite," she said.

The facility aims to achieve Robert Irwin's goal of providing comfort to children and their families, supporting them through a difficult journey, Hawtin said.

"Dr. Bob was a champion when it came to kids," recalls Catherine Frome, head nurse of Joseph Richey Hospice. "He agonized over the need to provide comfort as well as hope to dying children and their families."

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