Officials at Howard County General Hospital, in what they said was a milestone for the area, yesterday dedicated the hospital's first in-patient hospice suite.
Now, instead of traveling to Baltimore City for hospice care, terminally ill patients and their families can stay in a comfortable two-bedroom suite in the hospital.
"We've been waiting for this suite for a long time," said Dr. Nicholas Koutrelakos, an oncologist. "It's a celebration."
Hospital officials said the $36,000 suite, which took six months to build, had been planned for about two years.
Decorated in shades of green, the suite offers a private room for the patient and for the family, a separate sitting room complete with a TV, video cassette recorder, washer and dryer. Patients can even bring food and pets into the suite.
"Everything is for the comfort of the patient and family," said Susan Goodwin, senior vice president of nursing administration at the hospital.
The suite is reserved for terminally ill patients who have four to six weeks to live, those whose pain can't be controlled by routine medications, and for families who need a respite from their role as care givers, officials said.
"This is a milestone for Howard County," said Dr. Jon Minford, an oncologist. "We're going to use the room to do the best for our patients."
Before the suite opened, patients either lived at home where nurses from Hospice Services of Howard County cared for them, or they were sent to Joseph Richey Hospice in Baltimore City or the Stella Maris Hospice in Towson.
"It was a real ordeal," Dr. Minford said.
Besides traveling far from home, many Howard families were forced to find new doctors and nurses to care for their loved ones.
Health care providers said the hospice suite is a desperately needed service.
"It is critical," said the Rev. Cronan Cantlon, a Roman Catholic priest who has comforted hospice patients for the 13 years. "Nobody can fulfill their role as care giver 24 hours a day."
The suite is equipped for people of all ages. A table for example, can also be used as a bench for children.
For years, the hospital has wanted to build a hospice suite but never had the resources to do so. This year, the suite became a reality after Robert Makofski, former chairman of the hospital's Board of Trustees, lost a longtime friend to cancer.
"She disliked pomp, she disliked ceremony," Mr. Makofski said of his friend at yesterday's dedication. "I said today will be an exception."
The suite is dedicated to Martha L. Neuman, who died last year, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Ms. Neuman, a computer programmer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, began complaining of backache last year, Mr. Makofski said. When she underwent an operation for the pain, physicians discovered the cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. She died two weeks after the operation.
"I think she would been pleased by [the hospice suite]," Mr. Makofski said. "She never left the critical care unit and that's not the most pleasant surroundings."
The suite was created from a little-used waiting room and a former two-bed patient room on the hospital's second floor.
"This was the least desirable room for acute care patients and the furthest away from the nurse station," Ms. Goodwin said. "We decided this nice little corner was the place."
Hospital workers sealed off a hallway, turned the two-bed patient room into a private room and transformed the waiting room into a family sitting room. Staffers designed the suite as if they were going to use it.
"We laid on the bed and thought what would a patient want to look at or not look at," recalled Ms. Goodwin, referring to a bulletin board that faces the bed so patients can look at family photos and get-well cards.
Depending on demand, a second hospice suite could be built.
"This is really kind of an experiment to see how well we do," said nurse manager Judy Siegelman.
But health-care providers are content with what they have now. "The good things that can go on in that room goes beyond its physical size," said Dr. Minford.