North Mississippi Medical Center adds hospice wing

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – North Mississippi Medical Center is set to open a dedicated inpatient hospice wing in the next month.
On Thursday, the hospital held an open house so health care providers and others could see the new 10-bed hospice which will serve terminally ill patients who need a higher level of care to remain comfortable.
“Our intention is to serve patients who are dying and are too sick to go home with hospice or to another facility,” said Tupelo geriatric specialist Dr. Ashley Harris, who will serve as the medical director.
Harris and NMMC Hospice Regional Manager Jill Conerly expect the wing to open in the next several weeks after staff training and regulatory inspections are complete. Initially, the hospice unit will focus on frail, terminally ill patients who need assistance to control severe symptoms like pain and shortness of breath. Later this spring, the hospice unit expects to care for patients who need to end supportive care, such as ventilators.
The patients will primarily come from other units within the hospital when attending physicians, patients and families decide it is time to seek hospice care, although organizers hope to offer respite care for patients on home hospice as space allows.
“There’s a huge need in our community,” Harris said. “We have to work as a team to figure out where the patient is best served.”
Growing need
By mid-2013, the inpatient hospice capacity for north Mississippi – all centered in Lee County – will rise to 44 beds.
“We think it’s a good thing,” said Linda Gholston, administrator of Sanctuary Hospice House, which launched its efforts to expand in 2011 after it had to turn away 354 patients in the course of 12 months.
Before Sanctuary Hospice House opened its 16-bed home seven years ago, there were no dedicated inpatient hospice services available in north Mississippi. It will open eight additional beds later this spring.
Community Hospice opened a 10-bed Darlington Oaks in Verona six years ago by siblings Buck Boatner and Marilyn Hicks, who also own Rosewood Residence assisted living.
“We often have a waiting list,” said Stephanie Pearce, Community Hospice clinical liaison and care coordinator.
The inpatient hospice offers help for patients who need more intense medical care to remain comfortable and relief for caregivers who are overwhelmed even with the assistance of home hospice professionals. Additionally, respite care helps families who are generally able to care for a terminally ill patient at home.
“There is a demand,” Pearce said.
Creating space
The NMMC hospice unit was created from a 13-bed wing, carving out room for a family sitting area and counseling room in addition to 10 patient rooms. The NMMC Auxiliary donated $250,000 of the $320,000 project budget, helping to add drapes, warm colors and comfy couches for families.
“We used their gift to create a warm, home-like environment,” Harris said.
The closed unit dedicated to hospice patients will allow for different visiting policies from the rest of the hospital, Harris said.
“There’ll be a lot of flexibility,” for families and even pets under specific guidelines, Harris said.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com