PHOTO:C. Todd Sherman
Sanctuary Hospice House supporters bow their heads in prayer during a candlelight vigil held at the facility in Tupelo on Monday.
By Galen Holley
TUPELO – More than 350 people gathered Monday night outside the Sanctuary Hospice House for a candlelight prayer vigil in support of the embattled agency and its staff.
Tupelo ministers helped organize the vigil after the hospice house became the focus of a state investigation.
The Rev. Mike Hicks of St. Luke United Methodist Church was one of the organizers. Hicks said Monday's turnout was “wonderful, more even than we anticipated.”
Planning started after The Associated Press reported in late March that several families had filed complaints with the state attorney general's office.
The complainants said their family members, who died at the hospice house on West Main Street, were denied prescribed medications and given lethal doses of morphine.
Dr. Paul White, medical director, and Marilyn Lehman, clinical director, were indicted this month on misdemeanor charges by the Lee County grand jury.
Among those praying at the vigil was Tammy Terry Smith of Fulton. Her husband, Rex Terry, spent three months in the hospice house before his death from cancer in December of 2006.
Smith, whose husband is listed in the indictment as a “victim,” is trying to get his name removed from the case. Five other families also want their loved ones removed from the list of victims.
“It feels like they have exhumed my husband's body and I have to bury him all over again,” said Smith.
She was, however, unsparing in her praise of the hospice house and its staff. “I can't say enough good about them,” said Smith.
The service began with a prayer by the Rev. Anthony Hatch of New Life Church in Tupelo. Hatch said that he had visited the hospice house several times in his ministry. “A number of my fellow ministers and I have the highest regard for this facility and its staff,” said Hatch.
As darkness fell, those gathered passed the flame from one candle to the next and all sang “Amazing Grace” and “Sanctuary.”
Doug Herring of Pratt brought his son, Hugh, to the vigil. Herring's wife, Mauvaline, spent only two days in the hospice house before succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease in March 2007.
“It's unreal that they'd bring these charges,” said Herring, who is trying to have his wife removed from the indictment's list of victims.
Both he and his son were moved by the turnout. “These people realize that one day they – we – might need the type of loving care that my mother received here,” said Hugh.
Wayne Smith of New Albany said that his wife, Helen, spent 30 days in the hospice house before her death on April 6. “They took care of both of us,” said Smith. “They understand the hard circumstances families go through when a loved one is dying.”
Beau and LaNelle Lacey of Tupelo were among those visibly moved by the outpouring of support. LaNelle Lacey is a member of the Hospice House Auxiliary, which provides volunteer services, such as cleaning and cooking, to hospice patients.
LaNelle said, “For someone to pass into eternity with loving hands around them means everything.”
Beau added, “The presence of God is in this place.”
In addition to the attorney general’s case against White and Lehman, the families of five former hospice house patients still plan to sue the facility for malpractice and wrongful death.
At the vigil's end, however, Linda Gholston, administrator of the hospice house, assured those present that it would “continue to be here, to afford the dying a place of dignity, worth and grace as they depart this life.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.