Opinion Columns & Blogs

Hospice also for the living

On my desk is a photo of an old friend sitting on a deck overlooking a tidal marsh behind his Hilton Head Island home. He's in a lawn chair with his feet propped on a bench, a baseball cap on his head, staring directly into the camera. It was the last photo taken before he was diagnosed with cancer.

He died a few weeks later. He spent much of the intervening time at home, overlooking that same peaceful scene. Knowing that doesn't lessen the loss felt by his wife or his many friends, but it's been a source of comfort for those who loved him.

The consoling effect of that photograph also deepens my appreciation of the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House, which holds an open house today. It's named after another old friend.

Designed for the residential care of dying patients whose families no longer can care for them at home, the building is part of a 10-acre campus on India Hook Road. Altogether, the complex cost about $10 million and includes the headquarters of an operation that serves six counties. It employs 90 people, including two doctors, and coordinates 400 volunteers who help families cope with life's inevitable conclusion.

Patrick, former publisher of The Herald, died in 2001. In spite of the cramped, sterile environment of a hospital room, his wife and daughters graciously welcomed friends for a final visit with a man who did so much for them and for the community.

Wayne's long, brave fight against cancer inspired his family and friends to contribute more than $1 million toward his dream of a residential hospice.

He was a stickler for detail but also someone who appreciated art. He would have been tickled with the building that bears his name.

A visitor who drives onto the campus and immediately sees the sunken garden, fountain and gazebo-like chapel may be forgiven for thinking he's taken a wrong turn and ended up at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.

Lining the hallways are works by some of the area's best-known artists. Throughout the building are gathering areas that resemble living or family rooms. Anyone who has spent anxious hours in a hospital waiting area would appreciate the furnishings. Even the nursing station would be suitable for the lobby of a boutique hotel.

Except for high-end hostelries most people can only fantasize about, the hospice rooms are better appointed than most hotel accommodations. German-made beds, which could have come from Architectural Digest, function like ordinary hospital beds but feature wooden headboards and footboards. They stand on two sleek legs that conceal wheels, which may be lowered so the patient may be moved outdoors.

The grounds have several gardens, including a children's garden with a butterfly theme. (It's adjacent to an area where children receive counseling to help them cope with the death of a loved one.)

Ironically, Jane Armstrong, executive director of Hospice and Community Care, says that most of their clients are cared for at home, assisted by volunteers and nurses. At any given time, the agency ministers to 200 or more patients. Most never will occupy any of the hospice's 16 beds. Once there, most of those who do will have only weeks -- or days -- left.

Hospice is not just for the dying, she explains. Every aspect of the campus, but especially the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House, was designed to facilitate the therapy of those who live with dying -- family, friends, volunteer caretakers and staff.

All of us will die. And while most of us won't require residential hospice services, knowing that a place like this one is available can be comforting.

Medicare or Medicaid covers much of the cost of hospice. Moreover, hospice services are far less expensive than what hospitals charge for terminal care, one of the biggest factors driving up health-care costs. And while the concept of hospice has been around a long time, facilities like this are still relatively uncommon.

In the courthouse squares of America stand thousands of statues commemorating departed community leaders. None ever had more a fitting tribute than Wayne Patrick's.