Kitty Askins Hospice reopens with ribbon cutting ceremony
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 17, 2017 9:07 AM
Dean Lee, 3HC president and CEO, cuts the ribbon Thursday morning for Kitty Askins Hospice Center that recently reopened after a renovation project to repair flood damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Also on hand were Mayor Chuck Allen, left, Rhonda Creech, front row, third from left, hospice IPU director of clinical services, and Jim Scott, right, of Jim Scott Construction, who oversaw the project.
After five months of diligent work, Kitty Askins Hospice Center officially reopened on Thursday, celebrating with a ribbon cutting and tour of the completed renovations since patients and staff were displaced by Hurricane Matthew.
The mid-October storm poured an estimated 17 inches of water into the building, forcing patients to be relocated to a wing at O'Berry Center.
Patients and staff returned in early December, but only a portion of the facility could be occupied while the repair work continued.
Dean Lee, president and CEO of 3HC, estimated there were more than $900,000 worth of damages, as well as interruption of services.
In addition to new carpeting and flooring, state-of-the-art equipment and furniture were among the amenities added during the renovation period.
Rhonda Creech, hospice IPU director of clinical services at Kitty Askins, recalled the harrowing event that displaced patients and staff.
She told about preparations for the hurricane predicted for Oct. 8, 2016, and the weekend that changed everything at the facility.
By 10 a.m. that Saturday, the phone calls started, she said. She was in constant contact with the hospital and emergency services, bracing for the storm.
Water rose rapidly that afternoon and efforts were made to move patients into another area of the building.
At the outset, she said she expected they would only have to move six patients.
"Boy, was I wrong," she said. "By 7 p.m., the water was up to my knees."
All the rooms on one side of the acute care hall began filling with water, she said.
For the 15 staff members on duty that night, it was still business as usual -- administering medications, caring for patients and their families.
"During that time, there were five deaths during all this and funeral homes were unable to get to Kitty," Ms. Creech said.
By the next morning, O'Berry Center had secured permission to offer a wing for the patients.
"Nine ambulances pulled up outside of Kitty that morning (Sunday)," she said. "Eighteen patients were taken to O'Berry.
"We had to have nurses waiting for them to receive our patients."
Reflecting on the efforts to enact a "temporary home" in the interim, Ms. Creech had a catch in her voice as she praised the tireless efforts of her staff.
"What amazed me the most was that my staff never, not once, mentioned going home," she said. "There was no complaining. Being awake all night and day, being mentally drained, I still heard silly giggles from my staff.
"Patients remained our No. 1 priority and they were never neglected or harmed."
While it was admittedly stressful, there were many silver linings, Ms. Creech said -- from the brand new hospital beds donated during that first week to community support and volunteers who stepped up to make the transition work.
Lee called it a wonderful team and a "story of courage."
He also praised the efforts of many, singling out Jim Scott of Jim Scott Construction, who shepherded the hospice center throughout the reconstruction.
"Jim has a saying that I've adopted, 'It ain't a problem. It's just a situation,'" Lee said.
In the mountains when it happened, Scott showed up at Kitty Askins that Monday morning and never left.
"When I saw the devastation that was here, I stayed here and remained here until it was completed," he said.
Scott shared how he had numerous calls from other clients in the ensuing days -- 54 people vying for his services -- but said when he told them his focus was Kitty Askins and getting it back up and running, his clients were all understanding and patient.
"It's been a pleasure," Scott said of helping facilitate the renovation efforts. "We were able to turn the acute side back on in about 60 days."
Lee also had accolades for Mary Bartlett, vice president for finance and CFO of 3HC.
"We have a new position, project manager," he said, crediting her with guiding and overseeing the entire project.
He noted that he would be remiss if he didn't mention patients and their families over the past few months, especially in light of the services a hospice center provides.
"We're supposed to be here to take care of them. They took care of us," he said. "It's important to remember what we're all about.
"It's about community and I think Kitty is the epitome of what community can be."