SCARBOROUGH, Maine — It's a difficult conversation for many families to have -- what to do when the time to pass comes. An option that's becoming increasingly available in Maine is hospice care.
On Thursday, June 13, the groundbreaking took place for the Hospice of Southern Maine’s Home Hospice Center in Scarborough. This facility, located at 390 U.S. Route One, will be the central hub for supporting, mobilizing, and dispatching home care clinical teams.
These teams currently care for about 200 hospice patients a day in 66 towns across southern Maine. The new facility will consolidate the over-120 person staff from two other buildings, also located on Route One.
Maine's population has the oldest median age of any other state in the nation -- but hospice care has not always been a widely available option.
Fourteen years ago, Maine was second worst in the United States for providing hospice care, and only nine percent of people who were eligible for hospice care were using it. Now, Maine ranks as 25th in the nation, and hospice use has increased to 57 percent.
Nancy Pezzullo is a registered nurse case manager in the HSM Hold Program. She says the work they do is important because it helps people plan the time they have left.
"We are able to bring certain services to our folks and their families and support their comfort, quality of life, and their dignity -- and maintain that through the end of their natural life," said Pezzullo. "We all have a limited time, so it’s really a great opportunity to add something to that time.”
Sen. Susan Collins was among the dozens of people in attendance Thursday, despite the cold rain and muddy soil.
Collins spoke at the event, relaying personal experiences she had had with a close friend in hospice care. The story she told involved her friend's desire for a scone with raisins and the hospice staff's commitment to making that happen for her.
After the event, Collins spoke to media about why she thinks hospice care is so important in Maine.
"I really appreciate the work that all of these wonderful nurses and social workers and therapists are doing," said Sen. Collins. "It makes such a difference at the end of life for people to be able to get the care they need in the security, comfort, and privacy of their own homes."
The new facility will cost $5.75 million in total. In addition to housing clinical teams, it will provide a place for families, caregivers, and healthcare providers to get the education and support they need.
HSM cares for more than 1,600 patients annually at patients' homes, its current care facility, and the 18-bed Gosnell Memorial Hospice House. Thursday's groundbreaking is the next part of the organization's mission to expand hospice care options in the state.
"Death, like birth, is sort of this great common denominator of our humanity," said Pezzullo. "I am privileged to be with patients at this vulnerable time and to hear their stories, be invited into their lives, and just learn about their journeys...to help support those journeys and their family’s journey through this very limited but very sacred time.”