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An architectural rendering of the Bon Secours Community Hospice House Illustration court-esy Free Agents Marketing
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Anthony Markel (left) and Jack Cullather Photo by Jay Paul
â€œWe have raised $5.5 million so far, and we are going to the public to raise some more,â€ says businessman Jack Cullather of the Bon Secours Community Hospice House that he is working to get up and running with his business partner, Anthony Markel. â€œWe hope that ground will be broken in the first quarter of this year.â€
The pair, honorary co-chairs of the fundraising campaign for the freestanding hospice and palliative care facility in Chesterfield County, donated the 6.5-acre site on Old Bon Air Road that will house the new facility back in 2012.
Cullather and Markel know all too well how emotionally and physically difficult it is to be the primary caregiver for a loved one facing the last days of life. Cullather lost his 21-year-old son, Chris, in 1992, and his wife, Jean, in 2003. Both had brain cancer. Markel lost his wife, Sue, to ovarian cancer in 2008. Both men cared for their family members with the help of in-home hospice.
â€œI had such a life-changing experience with hospice,â€ Markel says. â€œI came away with such a strong feeling of its value. It made that stressful, gut-wrenching time of your life tolerable. It was a hell of an experience.â€
Cullather, who first witnessed the power of hospice 22 years ago when his aunt in New York was terminally ill, used the service for his son and his wife as they neared the end of life.
During his wifeâ€™s illness, he served as her main caregiver. He helped her with all of her daily personal needs and stayed with her around the clock. He had to install a monitoring system in the bedroom so he could hear her if he needed to travel to another area of the house. At night, he would always listen for her, even though it meant he got very little sleep. He quickly learned that primary caregiving is a 24-hour job.
Even though Cullather and Markel used in-home hospice, hospice staff were only in the home during scheduled visits. The rest of the time, the family bears the responsibility of overseeing care. â€œWith a brain tumor patient, the caregiver has to be there all the time,â€ Cullather says. â€œIf a caregiver is working, he or she would have to quit their job.â€
Meeting a Need
Cullather and Markel would have had the choice of using a freestanding hospice house for their family members if one had been available. But there are none in the Richmond area. The closest freestanding facilities are in Charlottesville and Williamsburg. After their experiences, they decided that situation had to change. â€œThere really is a need here,â€ Markel says. â€œThere are a lot of people who donâ€™t have homes that are conducive for end-of-life care.â€
Because of Cullatherâ€™s relationship with Bon Secours â€" he founded the Cullather Brain Tumor and Quality of Life Center at St. Maryâ€™s â€" the two decided to approach Peter Bernard, CEO of Bon Secours Virginia Health System, with their idea. â€œCoincidentally, Bon Secours had been talking about something along those lines when Jack and I sat down with Peter,â€ Markel says. â€œWe felt like it was a great addition for the Bon Secours family of services, and Peter embraced it.â€
In their roles as honorary co-chairs, Cullather and Markel helped Bon Secours reach its $5 million goal to build the hospice facility last year. â€œIt was clearly a project that was embraced by a number of people,â€ Markel adds. â€œThey came forward to put it over the top. There are more people who understand the value of hospice than you think there are.â€
Bon Secours has a long history of providing hospice care. â€œDying is part of life,â€ says Cindy Reynolds, CEO for the Foundation serving Bon Secours Virginia. â€œWe celebrate the beginning of life. It would be ideal for the end of life to be celebrated the same way for a life that is well-lived.â€
Hospice brings comfort, dignity and peace to those facing a terminal illness. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization estimates that 1.5 million to 1.6 million patients used hospice care in 2012. The number of patients and families served by hospice has increased steadily over the years, as has the number of facilities. â€œHospice is palliative care at the very end of life,â€ Reynolds says. â€œItâ€™s not intended to extend the personâ€™s life, but it doesnâ€™t shorten a personâ€™s life.â€
Support for the Family
The goal of hospice is not only to make the patient more comfortable, but also to support the patient and family through the process of dying. â€œWe offer grief support, both emotional and spiritual, for your family and your loved ones,â€ Reynolds says, adding that the loved ones of terminally ill people are the ones
who have to live with the consequences, accept them, honor them and work through the loss.
The new hospice facility will serve the entire community. â€œAll of the cities that are of similar size and even much smaller have hospice houses run by nonprofits, and they are for the community,â€ Reynolds says. â€œWe wanted to fill that need and step in.â€
The new home-like facility will have 16 rooms, all of which have auxiliary beds for caregivers that will allow them to stay with their loved one 24/7. â€œEveryone will have access to outside common courtyard spaces and a spiritually healing place where they can prepare for the end of life,â€ Reynolds says.
Physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists and counselors, as well as spiritual care providers, care for patients in hospice. â€œThey will have everything at their disposal,â€ Markel says of the patients and families in the new facility.
Bon Secours currently offers in-home hospice care as well as hospice care in a designated number of its hospital rooms. The Community Hospice House will be able to serve families who would rather have their loved ones in a homelike facility, as well as those who donâ€™t have the option to keep a family member at home. Take, for example, an elderly couple where both partners have health issues and one is in need of hospice. â€œThe other person wouldnâ€™t be well enough to care for his or her loved one,â€ Reynolds says, adding that a hospice facility is a good option for someone who lives alone as well.
After the Community Hospice House is up and running, Cullather, Markel and Bon Secours would all like to build more hospice houses in the area. â€œWe can envision a house in Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, the city of Richmond and also working our way to Hampton Roads,â€ Cullather says. â€œWeâ€™re going one step at a time,â€ Markel adds. â€œWe want to get this one out of the ground.â€
Cullather canâ€™t understand why a hospice house hadnâ€™t been built before. â€œItâ€™s bewildering to me,â€ he says. â€œItâ€™s important to give some quality of life... while you are in the later days of life.â€
Hospice: What you Need to Know
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization works to help people understand the values of hospice care. Following are seven important facts about hospice.
• â€œHospiceâ€ is not a place: itâ€™s care that focuses on comfort and quality of life.
• Hospice is paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance plans. Fear of costs should never prevent a person from accessing care.
• Hospice serves anyone with a life-limiting illness, regardless of age or type of illness.
• Hospice provides expert medical care and spiritual and emotional support to patients and families.
• Hospice patients and families can receive care for six months or longer.
• Hospice offers grief and bereavement services to family members to help them adjust to loss.
• Research has shown that people receiving hospice care can live longer than similar patients who do not opt for hospice.