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Porter nursing home offers a room reserved for terminally ill patients

MIDDLEBURY — Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center has 105 rooms designed to help people maximize their quality of life.
Now the center has opened a room aimed at aiding terminally ill people experience compassion and dignity in death.
The new room is a collaboration between the nursing home and Addison Respite Care Home Ltd. (ARCH), a nonprofit organization that is seeking to raise $350,000 to ultimately establish four such suites around Addison County for people seeking end-of-life-care who are unable to complete their lives in their homes.
Helen Porter opened the inaugural ARCH suite early in May. Since then, one patient has lived out their final days in the suite, and a second was resting in the space early last week.
The new suite is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of planning between ARCH and Helen Porter officials. It represents the first hospice-room collaboration between a nursing home and a nonprofit in the state, according to organizers.
The suite has been painstakingly decorated and equipped to evoke a home-like setting rather than an institutional feel, so that the patient can feel an enhanced comfort level as he or she receives end-of-life care — usually palliative in nature, noted Helen Porter Healthcare Executive Director Neil Gruber. It is a suite that includes a sleeper reclining chair for a relative or friend, and washroom facilities. The patient is afforded space for family photos and other personal mementos, along with such residential furnishings as an armoire, nightstand, television, café table with two side chairs and medication cabinet.
The hospice room is a service that is likely to appeal to patients who require round-the-clock supervision that cannot be provided at home due to a lack of family or resources. The Vermont Respite House in Williston is the only facility in the state currently specializing in such services.
“Helen Porter is undertaking this culture change journey where we are trying to move from a traditional medical model that all nursing homes started under, largely in the 1970s, to creating an environment for our long-term residents that is more home-like,” Gruber said. “We are becoming more ‘home’ and less ‘institutional’-driven. That was the synergy that I think ARCH felt in wanting a home-like environment for end-of-life care.”
Peter Jensen is president of the ARCH board of directors. It is a board of Addison County residents who came together around five years ago to determine whether local hospice services could be expanded.
The board got copies of the county’s 2002 and 2003 death certificates and delivered them to Middlebury College for statistical analysis by a group of students. Their findings at the time revealed the county could support two hospice suites that would be filled 80 percent of the time. Further research revealed 80 percent of the deaths in the county involved residents 65 or older; and that the county’s over-65 population is projected to rise by 82 percent by 2020.
“We knew, with the baby boomers coming, that there was going to be a very large demand for an increase in (hospice) services,” Jensen said, noting the presence in Middlebury of one retirement community (the Lodge at Otter Creek) and ongoing construction of a second (Eastview).
Helen Porter and ARCH share board members, who began talking about a collaboration on a hospice suite around a year ago. When a room recently opened up at the nursing home, the groups worked to make the project happen. Their efforts were greatly aided by the Middlebury Lions Club, which recently pledged $25,000 toward the project, noted Porter spokesman Ron Hallman.
“The reason this is working so beautifully is that you have an ARCH board that really has a passion around this need and community trend they want to fulfill, and at the same time you have Helen Porter, which for a number of years has been trying to diversify its services to meet emerging needs,” Hallman said.
Local hospice, visiting nurse and medical organizations are assisting in the referral of patients to the ARCH room.
The cost of housing a patient in the ARCH room is estimated at $250 per day, and organizers want the amenity to be available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. To that end, the ARCH board is seeking to raise $350,000, a portion of which is to help subsidize expenses for low-income patients, noted Jensen. The organization hopes to achieve its goal of having four respite suites in the county within the next five years.
“If the feasibility works, (Helen Porter) would be amendable to discussions in the future about an additional room,” Gruber said.
Donations to the ARCH fund drive should be made out to ARCH, Ltd., P.O. Box 953, Middlebury, VT 05753.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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