Group seeks to build hospice house to serve Aroostook

Posted Nov. 18, 2010, at 2:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Rick Duncan of Presque Isle watched his mother, Maxine, bravely fight breast cancer for several years. Though pleased with the care she received, there were still obstacles the family faced, namely the types of conflicts in end-of-life philosophies that arise between hospice and hospitals throughout the United States.

Hospice is quality, compassionate care for patients dealing with a life-limiting illness. The principal goals of hospice are enhancing the value of life by controlling pain and any other physical symptoms, maintaining patients’ dignity and respecting their wishes, and providing emotional and spiritual support. Hospitals, on the other hand, are more primarily focused on diagnosing, curing and healing. End-of-life care requires something more.

“Hospice has the philosophy of comfort care … keeping someone in their home or in an environment that they’re comfortable in, while hospitals are more focused on healing and they’re not very comfortable with large doses of narcotics for pain relief,” said Duncan. “When we got into the hospital situation — because of the type of care that she needed — those philosophies clashed; not the fault of either one, but the philosophies differed. It was a valued learning experience for all involved.”

“My mother passed away about a year-and-a-half ago, and thinking about what we went through after her death a few months later, we thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’ so we started touring the state,” he said. “We went down to the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House which is located in Scarborough and saw what they had. They have a freestanding hospice care center that is geared for the comfort of not only the patient, but the comfort of the family, too. It’s an atmosphere where families can come in, stay long periods of time, they can cook meals, and get the medical comfort care and whatever spiritual or family interaction care they need, as well.”

Duncan’s goal is to create such a hospice house in Aroostook County so patients and their families won’t have to face the same challenges his family did.

“We formed a corporation of which I am the president and we have a board of about 20 people,” he said. “In the last month-and-a-half, we received our 501(c)(3) status, so we’re a non-profit organization now and we’re able to take funds.

“Through our efforts with Visiting Nurses of Aroostook, which will be the entity that maintains this facility — they will operate it — our mission is to create the facility and hopefully create an endowment fund that will offset any negative financial problems that may arise during the year,” said Duncan.

The Aroostook House of Comfort will be a 4-8 bed facility located in Aroostook County. A specific location has not been identified.

“It would take a cooperative effort of different communities, not just the community of Presque Isle,” said Duncan, noting that 24-hour medical care will be provided to patients on-site. “It will be situated somewhere in central Aroostook County where it will be accessible for people from Fort Kent down to Houlton.

“An area architect is already on board with us,” he said, “and he’s designed us a facility that can be doubled in size relatively easily.”

Duncan estimated the Aroostook House of Comfort project would cost more than $1 million.

“The building cost looks to be about $650,000, not including furniture and equipment,” he said, “and then to sustain an endowment fund would be another $500,000. We’re looking at a $1.2 million-plus project all together.

“In talking to similar hospice homes, it takes 3-5 years to create,” said Duncan, “so it’s going to take a while. We’re further along than grassroots; we’re organized, we’re incorporated and we have our non-profit status. We’re well past the idea stage. We’re now in the process of having a feasibility study done. Eastern Maine Health Services is helping us obtain a grant to pay for the study; however, we feel very confident that the numbers are here in Aroostook County to sustain a 4-8 bed facility.”

The feasibility study should be completed by next spring.

Last Wednesday, trustees of the Fairmount Cemetery Association in Presque Isle donated $1,000 to the project.

“We’re very happy to make this donation,” said Ed Hews, trustee president. “A lot of people will benefit from having this type of facility in our area.”

Recognizing that there’s a lot of “red tape” with creating such a home, Duncan said the board will see the project through.

“The Aroostook House of Comfort Hospice Foundation Board is committed to it. Because of my profession,” said Duncand, the owner of Duncan-Graves Funeral Homes in Presque Isle and Mars Hill, “I hear these stories over and over. I know the need is there and I know a lot of peoples’ experiences with the end-of-life situation could have been a lot more meaningful and a lot less stressful if we had a facility like this. We are in it for the long haul.”

Duncan said the corporation has about $26,000 in its fund right now. Anyone wishing to donate can make checks payable to Aroostook House of Comfort and mail donations to P.O. Box 766, Presque Isle, Maine 04769.

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