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For patients dying of terminal illness and their families, Hospice House offers another option.

To learn moreFor information on how to donate to the Charles County Hospice House campaign, call 301-751-9601 or email julie@charlescountyhospicehouse.com. For patient referrals, call 301-861-5300 or email ceo@hospiceofcharlescounty.org. To volunteer, email volunteer@hospiceofcharlescounty.org or call 301-861-5300. For more information about specific programs, call 301-861-5300 or email info@hospiceofcharlescounty.org.

In May, Hospice of Charles County held a grand opening and ribbon cutting for its new facility off Davis Road in Waldorf. On Nov. 29, the facility accepted its first new patient.

Former Hospice House Chairwoman Susan Lawrence said the admission of the first patient was a decades-long dream coming to fruition at last. Over the last five years, Lawrence helped oversee the project.

“When we began hospice care in the county 30 years ago, it was always a dream to be able to provide this facility someday,” Lawrence said. “Within the last five years, we really planted our feet in the ground and began to make this happen.”

Ground breaking for the facility took place in 2010. Although the overall cost originally was projected at $5 million, Lawrence said that all told, the first phase of the project cost $3 million for construction and outfitting it with the proper equipment. The remaining $2 million, Lawrence said, will be used to create an endowment to serve families who need the services but cannot afford them.

The Hospice House is across the road from North Point High School. As part of the terms of the lease on the land, which the county provided, Lawrence said the hospice has partnered with North Point, which provides student volunteers who are a boon to their operation.

“We couldn’t have picked better neighbors,” Lawrence said. “It’s been wonderful on all fronts.”

Since they began admitting patients for care, interim hospice President Nancy Bowling said, there has been a demonstrable change in the building’s life and light.

“Only a few weeks ago, it was so surreal to go downstairs because all the activity was on the second floor of the building where the offices are,” Bowling said. “But the day we admitted our first patient, that changed. Having the lights on down there was so symbolic. The whole energy changed.”

On a Wednesday afternoon tour of the building’s first floor, Bowling said that just days before, the common area, sedate at the time, was a hub of activity.

“Oh, it was absolutely rocking in here. I wish you could have seen it,” Bowling said. “The football game was on the television; we had families out here talking to each other. It was really something.”

In every room, a Christmas tree from the now-concluded Festival of Trees lights up some space. Although no patients or their families were out, Bowling said it is not uncommon for families to wheel out their loved ones to allow them to enjoy the building’s homey open spaces.

The patient floor has 10 beds. Bowling said the first objective is to be able to handle the wing with six beds before filling the other four, so as to ease the staff into the demand gradually.

“It’s been beyond our belief. ... We were nervous at first, but we have folks who have been here for years with us at the outpatient care level, and they’ve really stepped up and helped out,” Bowling said. “We’re there for both the patient and the family. It’s a different kind of care that we provide here. We want the family to be as comfortable as the patient. This is their home. We’re here to serve them.”

Moving forward, current board Chairwoman Kathi Payne said, they hope to fill all the beds in the facility by the end of the year. Although Bowling confirmed there is not a waiting list for beds in the facility at the time, they anticipate a higher demand as the news gets around that they are accepting patients.

“It’s very prudent that we try to undertake this gradually to serve everyone the best,” Payne said. “Everyone here has worked so hard. It’s been a total team combined effort. It’s amazing.”

Although they are confident in their ability to serve, Payne said it would be “foolish to not anticipate stumbling points” as they get the operation off the ground.

“Being prepared and running it in a way to constructively assess our own performance and talking with our patients and families will help us,” Payne said.

Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) has experienced firsthand the familial end of the hospice’s benefits: before there was ever a dedicated building, Collins’ mother was a patient toward the end of her life.

“I can’t think of a more worthy charity,” Collins said. “When my mother passed, she was in hospice care for only a short time, but in that time, I was very impressed with the nurse who cared for her. That care was wonderful. To have that facility in the county is wonderful. That comforting element is one that I will always cherish.”

“This was a community-based project, and it’s there for everyone. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in,” Lawrence said. “A few of us might have spearheaded this effort, but the whole community built this.”

lrenner@somdnews.com