10/15/09 — Kitty Askins breaks ground on 12-bed expansion project

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Kitty Askins breaks ground on 12-bed expansion project

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 15, 2009 1:46 PM

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Dean Lee, president and CEO of Home Health and Hospice, speaks during ground-breaking ceremonies for the new State Employees Credit Union House at Kitty Askins Hospice Center Wednesday afternoon.

Groundbreaking for the long-awaited expansion of Kitty Askins Hospice Center was set for Wednesday and no amount of rain could dampen the spirits of those gathered for the ceremonies.

Officials simply moved the hour-long festivities under a large tent, where the crowd celebrated construction that will see the facility double from 12 beds to 24. The new addition will be named SECU House, stemming from a $750,000 grant from State Employees Credit Union earlier this year.

The hospice center opened in 1995 with six beds. Community needs prompted its first expansion two years later, to 12 beds. The occupancy rate remained steady, often resulting in having to turn patients away, officials have said.

In May 2007, 3HC's application for a Certificate of need for 12 additional beds was approved by the state. Fundraising efforts have since been under way.

Kitty Askins is in the second year of its five-year campaign, raising $2.3 million of the $4 million needed.

"This is a day that we have looked forward to for quite some time," Dean Lee, 3HC president and CEO, told those gathered for Wednesday morning's ceremony. He reflected on the center's 14 years in the community, which included a need for additional patient beds and occasions of having to say "no" to families.

"Too often we have talked about the need and the need has been quite simply this -- when someone calls and needs this level of care, too many times we have had to say, 'I'm sorry, we're full.' That's what we're here to do, to eliminate ever having to say that again."

Cathy Fonvielle, who serves on the capital campaign committee, represented families who have benefited from care at Kitty Askins. She knows firsthand what it means, since her own father spent 18 months at the center.

"Unless you have been there, no one knows the unbounding love and compassion that's extended to those families, to make it home for the patients and the families," she said.

Mrs. Fonvielle said she was proud to be part of a group that contributed to the center's expansion, along with the hope that "no one will ever have to be turned away again."

Jo Johnson, chairperson of the 3HC board of directors, agreed that additional space, as well as compassionate care, will be beneficial to the community.

"Today we are beginning this much-needed expansion of Kitty to ensure that our families, friends and neighbors will always have a home away from home in their greatest time of need," she said.

Kitty Askins Hospice Center, named for the first hospice nurse at what was then Mount Olive Home Health and Hospice, started out serving lower Wayne County and Duplin County, Lee said, and today serves over 16 counties.

"On any given day we serve 2,000 patients, with over 200 of those being hospice patients, primarily in the home," he said.

Being one of the first inpatient hospice facilities east of I-95, it has enjoyed an outstanding reputation across the state, said Jean Whitfield, vice president for operations and development at 3HC.

"We want to meet the needs of our community and continue to add life to days when days cannot be added to life," she said. "There is a perpetual waiting list at the center but thanks to our community, we will change that."

The expansion project will increase the size of the center on Wayne Memorial Drive by 13,000 square feet, officials said.

According to expansion plans, in addition to more patient rooms, a more home-like atmosphere will also be created -- natural lighting, a new chapel, an all-purpose room for volunteer activities and family gatherings, as well as a family kitchen.