Dr. Bob's Place hopes to be haven for terminally ill children

Hospice to open in Baltimore in June; started home-based services this week

March 18, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

The organizers of a hospice in downtown Baltimore are envisioning their new facility as a national model for the care of terminally sick infants and other children, a place of comfort for parents and extended families.

While a crew hooked up electric cable and painters put the finishing touches on a cornice this week, the staff of Dr. Bob's Place look to the day in June when the first families and children arrive.

"We will do everything we can to alleviate a sick child's three main worries — feeling the pain that often accompanies death, a fear of being alone and a concern about those they are leaving behind when they die," said Janet Will, a nurse who is director of the hospice for children.

Dr. Bob's Place opened its home-based services this week, becoming only the second hospice in the state to serve children. Gilchrist Kids, a division of Gilchrist Hospice Center in Towson, opened last year.

Dr. Bob's $4.6 million facility is "shaped like a boomerang" and was designed to dovetail around 1840s rowhouses at Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It is a project of the Joseph Richey House, a hospice established 25 years ago by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who live in Catonsville. Joining the nuns, as co-founder, was Mount Calvary Church, located on the same block.

Undaunted by the recession and a lost grant, the hospice's administrators still need to raise another $200,000 to furnish the rooms and make the place as gracious as they would like it to be.

"Most hospices provide care for well-insured suburbanites," said Charlotte Hawtin, executive director of the Joseph Richey Hospice. "We were founded for people who are alone and lack an able caregiver. Most of our patients come from the city, but we are licensed in seven Maryland counties."

She said she is confident she will find the money the hospice needs. She recently addressed General Assembly finance committees to ask for funding. The hospice received grants from the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland and the Kresge, Knott, Middendorf, Hoffberger, Dresher and France-Merrick foundations.

Hawtin says it is the mission of the Joseph Richey House to serve those most in need, regardless of insurance or personal finances. The first section of the Richey House opened with seven beds, but then the AIDS epidemic spread in Baltimore and the need for the services at Richey expanded. It now has 20 beds and primarily serves urban residents.

"There is a waiting list today, but it's not as long as it once was," Hawtin said.

About 12 years ago, Hawtin said she realized it was time to start work on a children's hospice, a place tailored around a set of special needs. She said she wanted to help parents of premature newborns whose medical conditions are severe and who will not live more than a couple of months. She also wanted to help children who are older and dealing with terminal illnesses.

"We stand in a position to set a national paradigm," said Hawtin. "I've been to England and Canada to see how they do a children's hospice. We're building a program that's never been done here before."

The hospice's organizers plan to work with leading pediatric hospitals, including Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, Children's National Medical Center in Washington and Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.

"Our job is to help parents provide what the child needs," said Will. "We do everything we can do to make the child feel comfortable."

"The children don't want to be maudlin. They play. They ride their bicycles. They interact," she said.

The hospice will also provide respite care — the hospice staff will care for a sick child for a specific time, perhaps a weekend, so family can take some time away.

Dr. Bob's Place will provide 10 private rooms, as well as public rooms and play areas. It's also designed to accommodate family members who want to spend the night.

The center is named for Dr. Robert Irwin, a pediatrician who was the first volunteer medical director of the hospice. He died in 2000, and now his son, Dr. John Irwin, is succeeding him in the new children's hospice venture as the pediatrician volunteer medical director.

Creating a pediatric hospice was Robert Irwin's "fondest dream," his son said, and was something he wanted incorporated in the Joseph Richey mission from its start.

In developing the new facility, the hospice staff was guided by a report issued in 2008 by Cindy Rushton at the Maryland Pediatric Palliative Care Summit.

"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 of them younger than 1 year old. Unintentional injury was the primary cause of death for all children, but cancer ranks second overall and congenital malformation ranks second for children younger than 1.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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