10/20/08 — Kitty Askins to double in size

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Kitty Askins to double in size

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 20, 2008 12:49 PM

Kitty Askins Hospice Center has received state approval to proceed with a plan to double its occupancy from 12 beds to 24 and expand by 13,000 square feet.

Officials announced this week that the center, owned and operated by 3HC, already has $1 million in gifts and pledges toward the $4 million project.

Now that the state has approved its application for a Certificate of Need, it's just a matter of raising sufficient funds to start the bidding process, said Dean Lee, president and CEO of 3HC.

Kitty Askins was built in 1995 to provide a place for hospice patients who lived alone or without a caregiver, families needing a respite from the stress of caring for a terminally ill loved one, and families in crisis. Initially, it had six beds. That increased to 12 beds in 1997.

But, over the years, the community's needs have exceeded the space available, creating perpetual waiting lists.

Hospice Facility Manager Debbie Derlinger said it is heartbreaking to know there are people waiting at a hospital or family home for services.

"Many don't have the opportunity to come in, and have to be charged to a nursing home," she said. "Many times they're in the homes and families have to do the best they can until we have a bed open. ... You just feel sorry for the families because they do need help and they do need a place for their loved ones to go.

"Sometimes they'll call every day, 'Is there a bed open?'"

Lee said that although ground for the expansion could be broken within six months, the need for the additional beds is pressing now.

"The unfortunate piece that I see, we need it yesterday when you look at the number of folks that have passed away while waiting for a bed," he said. "Our goal is to never have to turn someone away. We'd like to be able to simply say, 'Come on over, we have got a bed ready for you."

Even with the addition of 12 beds, Kitty Askins will likely still be at capacity as soon as they are available. According to the N.C. State Department of Health Services Resources, occupancy this year was 100 percent, and last year it was at 99.7 percent.

"The unfortunate statistic is that if someone passes away this morning, someone will occupy the room by this evening," Lee said.

This will likely be the last expansion of Kitty Askins, which was one of the first in-patient hospice facilities in eastern North Carolina.

Nearly three out of every four patients has come from Wayne County. Another 20 percent have come from Lenoir County. Lee said he envisions a similar facility being added in another community, such as Kinston.

For the uninitiated, a hospice center is not just "where you go to die," Lee points out.

"It's an obvious reality for a lot of folks," he said. "Many think of it as a place of sadness but it's really a place of joy. Those folks are celebrating a person's life, so he will have a wonderful homecoming, if you will, to his eternal home, and those who visit can share that."

Patients like Mamie Moore, who celebrated her 93rd birthday on Oct. 10.

Ms. Moore had previously been at Kitty Askins but her health improved and she went home. She returned last December and is now on the long-term residential hall, said niece Toni Ingram of Mount Olive.

"It's been an excellent facility. They're very open, not just for the patient but for the care providers," Ms. Ingram said.

She and another family member, Gracie Ragland, visit Ms. Moore every day. They also have an extended family member, Elizabeth Jones, who serves as caregiver for Ms. Moore.

"I have worked with her since February. It's been a pleasure," Ms. Jones said.

Just "grateful" for the facility, Ms. Ingram said it also meant a lot to her aunt.

"She was very excited when she had an opportunity to be here. She thanked me and thanked me for placing her here," she said. ""She's been very happy here."

In addition to doubling the number of patient rooms, plans call for adding a family kitchen, a new chapel and an all-purpose room for activities.

As the capital campaign unfolds to garner financial support, several fundraisers are also being planned, said Susan Malewich, the director of community development.

The "Kitty Classic" golf tournament, postponed earlier due to a rain delay, was held this month, along with a "high tea" today at the Royal Tea Room. And, in late February, the annual Mardi Gras celebration -- featuring a silent auction, reverse drawing and dinner and dancing -- will be held at Walnut Creek Country Club.

For more information on the fundraising campaign, call Ms. Malewich at 735-1387.