New family center addition planned for terminal patients at Porter

MIDDLEBURY — Building upon a collaboration which has already resulted in the creation of three “home-like” end-of-life rooms for area residents, Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (HPHRC) and Addison Respite Care Home (ARCH) have agreed to move forward with another community service project — the construction of a new “Family Center” addition at Helen Porter.
This project, which will be funded via a local fund-raising effort, will establish a new entrance, waiting area, kitchenette, bathroom and two private meeting rooms for families to use as they support a loved one residing in an ARCH Room.
ARCH’s vision, to expand end-of-life care options for patients who can no longer remain at home, began as a community initiative in 2004. The mission of this non-profit organization is to “establish a home for the terminally ill, providing quality of life and support for families regardless of their ability to pay.” ARCH officials said their rooms offer a local alternative of care similar to that provided at the Vermont Respite Home in Williston.
The partnership between ARCH and HPHRC was forged in 2010 and, with the help of a $25,000 donation from the Middlebury Lions Club, the first ARCH room was established in 2011 on Otter Creek Place at HPHRC. This room, called the Green Mountain Room, was dedicated to the Middlebury Lions Club. It was followed by the Champlain Room, which was dedicated in 2012 to former ARCH Board member Milo Schaefer.
A third ARCH room was created to serve the particular aspects of care required by those residing on the Memory Care Neighborhood at HPHRC. Because it was suggested by the staff of HPHRC care providers, the Addison Room was dedicated in their name in 2013.
Each room is furnished and decorated with a focus that acknowledges it as a patient’s residence during their final months, weeks, days or even hours. The staff that cares for these patients and their families is specifically trained for the unique needs that come with the challenges and gifts that occur during the dying process.
“Many testimonials and notes of gratitude have been received,” said Daphne Jensen, chair of the ARCH Board and a longtime hospice volunteer.
She said a family described their experience in this way: “On behalf of our mother, we cannot thank you enough for the extraordinary care Mom received in the Rehabilitation wing and in the ARCH room. Not only did Mom receive excellent attention, the staff brought our family food, drinks, pillows and hugs in the middle of the night.”
Noting the ongoing needs of these patients and families, both HPHRC and ARCH have recognized the lack of space and privacy for the family members and friends present to the dying of a loved one. They said the importance and need of a Family Center is a logical addition that can no longer be postponed.
While planning for the Family Center continues, a second project is under way to create an ARCH room on the Medical/Surgical floor of Porter Hospital. While most people choose to die at home, very often this is not an option for those facing their final journey at Porter Hospital. The Porter staff, in recognition of the comfort that an ARCH room can provide their patients, attending family and friends, has approached ARCH to build a room there before the end of 2014.
“The ARCH Family Center and Porter Hospital ARCH room projects are meaningful elements of our community’s awareness to the love and attention we must give to those on their end-of-life journey,” said PMC President James L. Daily. “We are very proud of our collaboration with ARCH at both Helen Porter and Porter Hospital to build upon the continuum of care available to our patients and residents.”
ARCH continues to identify the ongoing needs of Addison County relating to end-of-life care. Beyond the bricks and mortar, ARCH officials said there should be a continued effort in education and conversation as it relates to death and dying. ARCH has partnered with other organizations to help bring forward issues surrounding palliative care and hospice care.
With Porter Hospital, HPHRC, Addison County Home Health & Hospice, Hospice Volunteer Services and ARCH, community education and conversations around many aspects of end-of-life have been encouraged. They say they have furthered that effort through community presentations by Denys Cope, author of “Dying a Natural Passage,” Stephen Kiernan, author of “Last Rights,” and Dr. Ira Byock, author of “The Best Care Possible.” They also pointed to the staging last fall of the play “Vesta,” which charts the end-of-life story of a septuagenarian woman, chronicling her flagging health and how she, her family and caregivers react to it and are changed by it.
This year the theme for the collaboration of these five organizations is “Start the Conversation.” It encourages people to talk about death and dying, and complete advance directives. The group is presenting at service organizations, faith communities and local exhibitions such as the Sustainability Expo.
A free social event was held in May at 51 Main. Titled “Let’s Talk” and facilitated by Dr. Diana Barnard, the event incorporated several “skit-lets” that presented typical conversations between friends and family members about death and dying. There was food and a cash bar, in an atmosphere that was comfortable and informal for conversation. The latest paper resources for “Starting the Conversation” and advance directives were available, as well as people resources for particular questions — legal, medical, spiritual. The feedback from this event was very enthusiastic, so the group will provide this opportunity in other towns, with the next “Let’s Talk” at the Shoreham Inn in October.
The group will have a booth at Field Days and has created a website — www.addisoncountyconversations.org — to provide more information and support to the community.

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