Miracle needed to keep hospice open here

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2000

A special care facility in Brookhaven has announced it will soonbe closing its doors, and around 50 people will lose their jobsunless a miracle occurs soon.

“We started a prayer chain Saturday night, and we’re justpraying for a miracle,” said Southern Hearts Hospice NursingSupervisor Becky McDowell. “If we’re going to stay open, it will beGod’s will.”

Southern Hearts Hospice expects to shut down its in-housepatient facility on North Jackson Street within the next few weeks,due to a lack of patients.

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“Basically it’s been real expensive to run, and we’ve come to apoint where we cannot operate,” said Executive Director PaulBessenbacher. “We just haven’t had enough home referrals.”

The facility, which is one of two palliative care centers in thestate, has provided specialized care at its facility and at thehome of elderly people since November 1998.

Southern Hearts Hospice has cared for about 200 people, and thepraises of that care have been countless.

“Most of the patients here are in their final days, and it’sgood to be somewhere that people will take such good care of them,”said Boyce Bullock, whose aunt has been at the in-house facilityfor three months.

Many families have called the nurses “angels,” and the facilityis referred to as “heaven’s waiting room” by employees, saidMcDowell, who was heartbroken about the announcement.

She and other employees have cried together as they realizedtheir “family” was breaking up.

“We’re just still in shock,” she said. “We all love each otherand our patients so much.”

The employees believe they developed such close relationshipswith each other, patients and patients’ families because they aretogether during a vulnerable part of life.

During the final phase of life, nurses at Southern HeartsHospice attempt to ease the pain and make the transition aspeaceful as possible. Nurses try to do that by staying nearby,holding a patient’s hand and sometimes even singing to them.

“Our nurses and nurse aids have sung many people into heaven,”said Allison Sutton, a registered nurse at Southern HeartsHospice.

The facility is a vital one because it provides one-on-one care,and sometimes, two-on-one care, when it is needed the most,Bessenbacher pointed out.

“Families are sometimes not physically and emotionally able toprovide care during these times, so we help out,” he said.

Patients’ families say the attention given by nurses at SouthernHearts Hospice is so special because the staff really cares for thepatients.

“This place has given me and my brother peace of my mind becausewe know the staff will take good care of our mother,” said BettyWilliams. “I don’t think the people of Brookhaven know what they’relosing.”

Williams, along with many other patient’s families, want peoplein Brookhaven and surrounding areas to realize how much of animpact the facility has made in their lives and how much peace itcan bring to others.

Others agree.

“It is a wonderful place, and there’s a real need for it. I justdon’t think people know about it,” said Edna Sones, whose husbandhas been at the in-house facility for a few months.

Williams pointed out how convenient it has been to have apalliative care center in Brookhaven.

“It’s been easier on the family because we don’t have to travelto Jackson to visit her,” she said.

Patient’s families and employees of Southern Hearts Hospice arehoping the in-house facility will be able to re-open soon. The onlyway that can happen is if the number of home hospice patientsincreases significantly.

“If we had 20 in-house patients, we would have to serve 100patients a day in their home, but we haven’t been able to get thatmany,” said Bessenbacher.

Some elderly patients needing special care are being referred tothe other palliative care facility, which is in Jackson, ratherthan to the hometown facility, said several patients’ families.

Because of the lack of referrals and the low number of homehospice patients, the eight patients housed at Southern HeartsHospice now will have to look for other places to go.

Many will go home and take some of the nurses from the facilitywith them. Some will be sent to nursing homes, and the fate ofothers is uncertain at this point.

The staff at Southern Hearts Hospice and patients’ families knowthe only thing they can do now is pray for something wonderful tohappen. They all hope the doors at the in-house facility can remainopen, so others can experience care that is up close andpersonal.

“We’re just going to continue praying for a miracle,” saidVolunteer Martha Neal. “This place just means so much to so manypeople that it needs to stay open.”