Many of us were shocked and unhappy by the decision of new owners to close the St. Mary’s Residential Hospice in Halls. One of us refused to let the decision stand.
Cindy Clark Bradley first tried to buy the old hospice building. Owners wanted too much and it needed too many repairs, she said. Then she negotiated with the United Methodists to purchase a former church facility on Dry Gap Pike. It’s a beautiful piece of land, a triangle bounded in back by Rifle Range Road. And the building itself was fairly new, but it had sat vacant for over two years and needed to be brought up to code.
Bradley and her board of volunteers secured financing to build from scratch the residential wing – 16 spacious rooms, each with a bath, dressing and dining areas, and sleeping accommodations for a spouse or caregiver. The rooms are private, but all connect to a commons area which includes a gathering place with snacks, coffee, juice and books, a screened porch, private family meeting rooms and more. Everything is ADA compliant, Bradley said.
Scared Ground Hospice House opened eight months ago and already has served 137 families, even though half of its rooms are shuttered because of government regulations – local, state or federal – or maybe all three. And there’s a wait list.
“We need another $150,000 to install sprinklers in the (former) church sanctuary,” says Bradley. One would have thought that building was good to go. Sacred Ground had budgeted for cosmetic changes only. Bradley is not complaining. She just sets her shoulders and carries on. When the sprinklers are in, and the various inspectors sign a certificate of occupancy, Sacred Ground can open its other eight rooms and will use the former sanctuary for community gatherings, perhaps funerals or celebration of life ceremonies.
The residents are admitted regardless of their ability to pay, and the annual budget of the 501(c)(3) is $750,000. Only caregivers receive pay. There are opportunities to volunteer or donate on the website. There’s a wish list on Amazon where people can donate needed items.
Director Gwen Brown handles admissions and oversees the staff and facility. She is an ordained minister whose career is in pastoral care and social work. Brown retired from the state Department of Human Services and came to Sacred Ground to volunteer. Bradley put her to work.
Bradley is an active real estate agent with Signature Homes on Cedar Lane. She drops by the hospice house daily. “I try not to live life in reverse,” she says. “This facility was built and is maintained by private funds and donations. God just provides.”
When the Halls hospice closed, Knox County had no residential hospice. Regionally, there are 3-bedroom houses in Morristown and Crossville that provide hospice service, but no facilities built specifically for this purpose.
Sacred Ground residents might stay “a couple of months or a couple of hours,” said Bradley. “I tell the staff, we can’t change the dying but we can change the journey.” Bradley also believes:
- It’s important that people not die alone. And families are often fatigued by the stress of constant care of their loved one at home.
- The community must rally to keep the Sacred Ground open and available to all.
- We have to say, if not me, then who?
- The hospice is a blessing to volunteers. “They’ve got stories and we get to hear them.”
- I tell the caregivers, don’t focus on them dying, but on them living. Love is a verb, not a noun.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.