Celebrating Life

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Kline Hospice House Marks 20 Years of Service

By April Bartel

It may seem contrary, but Hospice is about life. “It’s about living every day to the fullest,” says Carlos Graveran, executive director of Frederick Health Hospice. “We help people take advantage of the time they have remaining.”

Graveran says losing his own father 10 years ago, watching a loved one suffer needlessly, informed his perspective and gives him a passion to help others through this fraught experience. “I want to encourage people not to be fearful. Come learn about this resource before you need it.”

“Goodbye” is never easy, whether it’s goodbye for the first day of kindergarten, goodbye to a grown child leaving home or goodbye at the end of a long-distance visit. Short goodbyes are hard enough, so we understandably shy away from the thought of our final goodbyes. But, while the subject is daunting, death is our great unifier. Making an informed choice about how to spend our final days is the rarer privilege.

That’s why Dame Cicely Saunders established the first modern hospice, known as St. Christopher’s, in a London suburb in 1967. As a medical professional and social worker, she established the discipline of palliative care, including a push for effective pain management and an insistence the dying deserve dignity, respect and compassion. The first American Hospice opened in Connecticut in 1974 and Hospice of Frederick County, now Frederick Health Hospice, started in 1980.

“I experienced a great deal of death in my own life,” says Laurel Cucchi, the organization’s former executive director. It inspired her degree in grief counseling and prompted her to volunteer with Hospice at its local beginning, helping thousands of people over the years. The organization allows those who don’t need hospital care or longer-term accommodations at a nursing facility to remain at home. But there was still a gap in services that caused Cucchi to ask, “Where can people go when they don’t have someone capable of caring for them around the clock?” In many cases, it is the sick or elderly trying to take care of the sicker. So, for the next 20 years she gathered information, stuffing notes into a folder wryly titled “The Dream.”

When county resident Carl Miller came to Cucchi’s office at the turn of the millennium, he explained that his mother recently passed away and the family had a great experience with a Pennsylvania establishment. Local residents should have a similar resource. So, he pitched an idea for a Hospice “house,” a tranquil retreat with all the comforts of home dedicated to caring for those in their last weeks on Earth. It would be an alternative to Hospice’s typical at-home support services—not a medical center, but someplace truly homey and comfortable. Cucchi was overjoyed because, in Miller, she found a partner to make the dream come true.

They hatched a plan, reaching out to the community for input and donations in July 2000. “No one told us, ‘No,’” recalls Cucchi. Morgan-Keller, a general contractor and construction management firm, stepped up, as did the Girl Scouts and many other groups. They donated everything from drywall to roofing, furniture and décor. The biggest surprise came from Miller.

Searching for land, Miller and his wife, Norma, invited Cucchi to meet them near Mount Airy, just a few miles from their home. The location was a gently rolling spread of countryside, striped with crops in earthy golds and greens below an expanse of blue sky.

Miller asked, “Would this work?”

Cucchi replied, “If the price is right.” She remembers him laughing and saying, “It is your price, Laurel. It is free.”

The Millers donated 14 acres of farmland for the building, big enough for six individual suites, a full kitchen, private bathrooms, sitting rooms, a playroom for visiting children, a small chapel, manicured grounds and preservation of its serene view.

Thanks to overwhelming support from the community, the project came together smoothly, until it didn’t. Licensing issues took a few extra months to work through, since there was no other facility like it in the state. “We were the first in Maryland to build a residential hospice,” beams Cucchi. “We became a model for the rest of the country.”

Kline Hospice House, named for Miller’s late mother, opened in September 2002.

Graveran adds, “We’re blessed because the community has always been so generous. … In fact, when we opened our doors, we had no mortgage.” There are still bills to pay, of course. “Our deficit runs roughly $33,000 every month,” he continues, “but we’re able to keep the doors open because of [ongoing] community donations and grants.”

There is a cost to stay at the house, topping out at $275 a day, but charges are calculated on a sliding scale. Graveran insists, “Payment is least of all considerations. …We never turn anyone away and the care is always the same.”

Each room is packed with thoughtful details. There are hand-painted murals depicting the original farm, fans for extra air circulation and French doors big enough to push the entire bed out onto a patio or large deck. There are sofa sleepers for visitors who are welcome 24/7. Families can gather for a meal or bring in favorite foods. Graveran says, “As long as there isn’t a medical or clinical reason why they should not do something, it’s allowed.” He gives an example, “Our staff will make them a grilled cheese sandwich at 2 o’clock in the morning. If they want ice cream for dinner, that’s OK, too.”

On a typical day, Kline House is staffed by a nurse and two aides, plus volunteers and support services, such as bereavement counselors, social workers and therapists. The overall program has more than 200 volunteers.

Stacy Boyer is one who heads to Kline Hospice House on Saturdays. She’ll make breakfast, clean the house or talk with patients and hold a hand. No stranger to loss, Boyer says, “This period of time deserves just as much respect and care as birth.” For her, helping others is an irreplaceable feeling. “It’s a blessing. This sounds crazy, but it’s one thing I know I do that really makes a difference.”

It makes a difference to the Miller family, too. Carl and Norma’s sons Mike and Dan appreciate seeing their parents’ picture displayed prominently. Carl spent his own final days at Kline House. “So, we got to experience what it’s actually like,” says Mike Miller. “It’s a sad time, but Hospice does a really good job of making it more of a memory than a sad ending.” He focuses on the good times. “They always were very happy. And they helped so much with Hospice.”

The Kline house is a safety net for the community, but demand is great, too. When the house opened, its six-person capacity represented about 12 percent of Hospice’s average daily census. Now, it represents about 2 percent of patients in the program. The house has been full for months and there is a waiting list, so the need for expansion is evident. Other Hospice programs and services are also growing.

Graveran says the people of Hospice feel privileged to help families in ways that are as individual as they are. Cucchi agrees. “I think the most important thing is that the community continues to invest, and I don’t mean just money,” she says. “I mean to invest in the community and all healthcare aspects.”

Frederick Magazine