Leisure Features

Dorothy About Town: 1.3.18

Most people don’t like to think about death. But of course, the time comes when we all must face it—maybe with the passing of a parent or friend. We feel lucky if death came swiftly for them. But that isn’t always the case. Anyone who has rushed a loved one to the hospital repeatedly or spent sleepless nights in a waiting room understands how dehumanizing end-of-life can be.

That is why the brand-new Evelyn’s House on the campus of Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital is so welcome in the community. One of only two free-standing hospice homes in our region, it is an alternative to the noise and bustle of hospitals for the terminally ill. Medical director Dr. Patrick White explains it’s a respite when patients need more than they can get at home, perhaps during an acute episode of pain. Evelyn’s House won’t change the outcome for patients, but it will ease the journey—for them and their families.

The 7-month-old residence, named for the late philanthropist Evelyn Newman, looks like a sprawling West County home from the outside. Inside, it has kitchens with espresso machines, microwaves and stocked refrigerators. Each of the 16 bedrooms has a patio— accessible from a door wide enough to roll a bed through. And medical devices like high-flow oxygen and suction pumps are hidden tactfully behind wall art. An expressive arts therapist is on-site to distract patients and their families from pain and illness. There’s a meditation room and a music room. Rocking chairs on a screened porch overlook a rock garden where every patient who enters has a dedicated memorial rock.

Stays are usually about a week, just until difficult symptoms can be controlled. Some patients go more than once, and sometimes patients die quietly while there, surrounded by a peaceful environment instead of the glaring lights and noise of a hospital. White says this alternative is about dignity—allowing those who face the final challenge to have some control over the process.

This month, Evelyn’s House will admit its first pediatric patients. Friends of Wings, the prominent support organization for families with severely ill children, has been a key contributor to the hospice house, providing volunteers, programming and financial resources. Its members already have prepared a room with Dr. Seuss bedding, wall decals, toys and towels—and there are 12 more themes ready to go. An upcoming fundraiser Feb. 24, Flutter Bash, will further support Evelyn’s House.

Financial support is key. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” White says. “But it’s incredibly expensive and dependent on philanthropy.” When two lead donors— Aja and Patrick Stokes and the Eric P. and Evelyn E. Newman Foundation—came forward with $5 million each, this BJC dream became a reality. Notes left by grateful families show that what Evelyn’s House provides is priceless: “This is truly a home for those who need it most. My father felt at peace here.” “My sister felt love from the moment she arrived. Thanks for this miracle on earth.” “Thanks for making the spiritual journey of our loved one comfortable. Please continue to grow and spread this beautiful experience.” Amen to that.