BANGOR, Maine — Several Bangor-area hospice organizations are exploring the feasibility of establishing one or more residential “hospice houses” where end-of-life care can be provided in a noninstitutional, homelike setting.
A coalition of three hospice providers announced Monday that they already have completed an analysis of the regional demand for end-of-life services for terminally ill Mainers who do not want to die in a hospital or nursing home but who cannot live out their days in their own homes or the home of a family member.
The group, made up of Community Health and Counseling Services, Eastern Maine HomeCare and St. Joseph Home Health and Hospice Services, is preparing to develop a business plan and conduct a formal feasibility study using a grant from the Maine Community Foundation. The group’s preliminary plan is for a 12-bed hospice house.
“Maine is one of the last states in the country to establish hospice houses,” said Lisa Harvey-McPherson, CEO of Brewer-based Eastern Maine HomeCare. “It is an essential service for individuals and families for whom end-of-life care cannot take place in a home setting.” That population could includes elderly Mainers whose family members cannot care for them and others without a support network, including the homeless, she said.
While hospice care is available in private homes in most areas of the state, there are just two free-standing hospice houses in Maine — Hospice House of Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice in Auburn and Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough. The facilities provide private rooms and family suites along with nursing and medical care, social services and spiritual support to ease the experience of dying. Hospices services are paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. In some cases, affordable care is provided for those who have no insurance coverage.
While it may not prove economically feasible to build a brand-new facility in the Bangor area, Harvey-McPherson said the group is considering renovating existing space at the Dirigo Pines retirement community in Orono. The coalition is working with the Maine Veterans’ Homes organization, which has expressed support for providing hospice care for military veterans.
Harvey-McPherson said the group would need to conduct fundraising for the facility, with a target opening date of late 2012 or early 2013.
Also considering a hospice house in the Bangor area is Pat Eye, founder and director of New Hope Hospice in Eddington. Eye said Tuesday that she has long wanted to provide a residential facility for hospice patients and is looking at a site in Eddington.
“It is my life’s dream,” she said.
Eye said she will meet with an engineer next week to discuss the project and could start serving patients and families as soon as next October. A fundraising campaign would be required for the New Hope project, she said, which she estimated would cost $800,000.
With one of the oldest populations of any state, Maine is ripe for the expansion of hospice services. The Obama administration’s health care overhaul includes support for end-of-life care that focuses on patient comfort, dignity and choice rather than on costly medical heroics. Many surveys have shown that Americans overwhelmingly would prefer to die in their own homes surrounded by their families than in a hospital or nursing home setting.
Kandyce Powell of the Maine Hospice Council said Tuesday that Maine ranks 28th among the 50 states in the use of home-based hospice care among Medicare patients. While developing a hospice house in the Bangor area would help make services available to more people, she said, it is important to spread resources to populations throughout the state. Hospice house proposals are under consideration in northern Aroostook County, as well as in the midcoast region, Powell said.